Theresa Miller is co-manager of Mary’s Closet, one of the fundraising efforts at St. Mary’s Parish. Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s Parish

Parish builds strength with fundraising

By 
  • October 24, 2021

A restoration project that came in at close to $2 million has not only allowed St. Mary’s Church in Campbellford, Ont., to return to its former glory, it has also fostered greater strength among the parish community.

St. Mary’s parishioners have kicked fundraising efforts into high gear, raising half of the funds needed for the restoration before the project even began and have since brought the debt load down to $720,000. At the same time, parishioners have been building and strengthening the community.

The current church, under the official name The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, was built in 1900, 11 months after a Christmas Eve 1899 fire destroyed the original building. But in the ensuing 115 years deterioration to the historic building made from limestone resulted in the need for extensive renovations totalling close to $2 million.

Like their ancestors when the original church was destroyed, parishioners rolled up their shirt sleeves and got busy as well. Pledges were made, and fundraising began for the mammoth project during the last 10 years. When the dust settled, St. Mary’s had a debt of just over $1 million.

Pastor Fr. Bill Maloney, who has been at the parish for just 14 months, has been pleased by what he’s seen in such a short period. Since Maloney has been at the parish, he has found the community to be most welcoming, dedicated, faithful and very eager to engage in the fundraising efforts. Even throughout the pandemic, the parish has made significant inroads which have shrunk the debt total to where it is today.

“The parish continues to wrestle the debt into submission,” said Maloney. “It is easier to fundraise for a project in the planning and implementation stages. It is far more challenging to raise money for a debt. Dances, bake sales, dinners, serving meals to cattle buyers and farmers at auctions, garage sales, concerts, prayer-a-thons were a few of many activities over the years.”

One such initiative that highlights the spirit of the parishioners is Mary’s Closet, a store which opened up in the rectory on July 17 selling second-hand clothes and other household goods to help the community. Buzz around the shop has grown over the months, and clothing is donated by parishioners and those in the wider community. Open just one day a week, on Saturdays, Mary’s Closet carries fashion for men, women and children as well as books, puzzles and appliances. One weekend in October the store brought in $900.

The initiative has been drawing in everyone from weekend thrift shoppers to parents looking for a good deal. Carrying brand-name children’s items, which sell for $1 to $3, has targetted those who may be struggling financially and could benefit from the opportunity to buy brand name items at a fraction of the cost.

“I think it’s a very good way to build community because we’re appealing to people of all ages, all religions, all ethnicities,” said Theresa Miller, co-manager with Peggy Clark of Mary’s Closet. “We have a very large cross section of the population coming in, so it’s great. Members of the parish are volunteering as well. We are only open on Saturday from 8:30 to 2, but we are hoping to open another day in the week as well.”

The Holy Smokes firewood initiative is another creative way parishishioners are raising funds while also feeding the spirits as a community. In August, parishioners cut logs and piled them in blocks. It took four mornings and at one point there were five chainsaws going and three people piling blocks. After letting the wood sit for a full month, 21 people gathered a couple of Saturdays in September and October to split it into firewood. When the job was completed, 18 and a half cords were split and stacked. The wood will cure and be sold next year.

“Though it was hard work there were a lot of smiles and much laughter could be heard especially during the coffee, muffins and apple breaks,” said Maloney. “It wasn’t the feeding of the 5,000 but everyone was nourished on many levels.”

Not every initiative has been about raising money to pay down the debt. In the tradition of those with Irish roots, the parish instituted the Parish Potato Patch. The parish’s Mahoney family lent a plot of land and the Oates family donated seed potatoes. Volunteers gathered on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour to hoe, pick stones or help rid the patch of potato bugs. When all was said and done the 300 pounds of seed potatoes produced 990 pounds of potatoes which have benefitted food banks in Campbellford, Havelock, Hastings, Marmora, Norwood, Stirling and Warkworth, as well as a local soup kitchen in Peterborough.

“The Holy Spirit is alive and active in Campbellford at St. Mary’s despite COVID-19,” said Maloney. “In a nutshell a debt of $720,000 remains but like the Israelites who journeyed 40 years and eventually arrived at the Holy Land, St. Mary’s will pay off this debt and then embrace the next challenge whatever it may be. With the Lord at our side, nothing is impossible.”

The diocese has been pleased to see not only the support of the parish through the fundraising efforts but also to know it is coupled with and sustained by an active and sacramental prayer life.

“I think what the community is doing is really undertaking this as a long-term project to which they’ll dedicate their consistent efforts and work,” said Deirdre Thomas, communications director and assistant to Peterborough Bishop Daniel Miehm. “It will happen bit by bit. I think that ongoing good work that they are doing will bear much fruit.”

With a social justice outreach and a focus on the common good, the parishioners have been very attentive to the needs of the poor, said Thomas. Parishioners have been seeking ways not only to gather people around fundraising efforts, but ministering to those who are less fortunate

Anyone wishing to donate can call (705) 768-0844 or (705) 653-1093 or visit saintmaryschurch.info.

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