Catholic Missions in Canada president Fr. David Reilander with Our Lady of the Way pastoral assistant Lilly Dubac in the Diocese of Whitehorse. Photo courtesy Catholic Missions In Canada

Catholic Missions slowly bounces back

  • October 3, 2021

Rewind the clocks to late July 2020. Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic and Catholic Missions In Canada had already paid a heavy toll.

The charitable organization, powered by a mission to “advance and sustain the Catholic faith in remote and poor mission communities across Canada,” experienced several major blows to its fundraising efforts because of the public health restrictions enacted from coast to coast.

These setbacks included the cancellation of its cornerstone late-April Taste of Heaven Gala fundraiser in Toronto and an overall lack of access to parishes nationwide throughout the year. Diocesan visits are a highly important enterprise for Catholic Missions as it profits from collections and benefits from in-person visibility.

These realities brought on by the pandemic forced cutbacks on grants to Canada’s mission territories to ensure missionary sustenance funds remained robust. 

Catholic Missions’ 2021 story is a remarkably rosier picture, however, says Fr. David Reilander, the organization’s president since 2016.

For one, the Taste of Heaven Gala returned, albeit in a predominantly virtual presentation. Highlights of the gala included a virtual wine tasting, a salute to St. Joseph’s Award recipient Fr. Frank Salmon, OMI, of Fort St. James, B.C., and the presentation of video captured by Reilander at some of the many missionary locations where Catholic Missions operates.

“We raised in the area of about $150,000, and that went above the $80,000 to $100,000 we were anticipating,” said Reilander.

The gala’s success, coupled with other generous donations, has made it possible for Catholic Missions to revive the grant disbursement areas in 2022 that it had to stop due to COVID-19. These include repair and maintenance of mission churches, formation programs for lay leaders, religious education programs and education support for seminarians.

In total, Reilander expects to disburse about $3.8 million in grants over 2022.

“We are doing well,” said Reilander about the overall state of Catholic Missions. “And we are doing well because we have received (donations from) a number of estates. But, unfortunately, you receive the estate because someone has died. The (estates) helped us get through 2020.”

It’s still not back to pre-pandemic levels though. Historically, Catholic Missions’ annual disbursements would average around $4.5 million.

Reilander is delighted that the trajectory is tilting upwards at the moment, but knows a number of unknowns persist.

“If we hadn’t received the estates, we would not be doing as well. We would have continued with missionary sustenance only,” said Reilander, who spoke to The Catholic Register upon return from a two-week trip to Whitehorse, Yukon, and the Diocese of Victoria for some in-person outreach.

While he and his colleagues will have to dance to the tune of the ongoing fourth wave, Reilander looks to renew visits to parishes, schools and council meetings of the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus. Since Catholic Missions does have a national purview, it can be flexible by prioritizing in-person outreach in the jurisdictions with less stringent pandemic restrictions.

“It will be slow getting back to things,” admitted Reilander. “Many of these in-person meetings are not happening yet and are not being open to people coming in because of this fourth wave. When is this wave going to end?”

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