by Dan Madden
ATCHISON — The $2 million needed to complete the first major physical changes to St. Benedict’s Abbey here in 50 years will be raised by the end of 2008, a group of lay volunteers has declared.
The St. Benedict’s Abbey campaign committee — a group made up of alumni of Benedictine College and Maur Hill-Mount Academy, members of parishes served by monks of the abbey, and other friends and benefactors of St. Benedict’s — made the vow at its recent annual meeting.
“We have set a deadline and we will complete this project on time,” declared Gene Hegarty, newly elected president of the Friends of St. Benedict. “But we will need help.”
More than half of the $4 million has been raised for three major projects — making the church and guesthouse more accessible, replacing the 78-year-old slate roof of the monastery, and installing 885 energy-efficient replacement windows in the monastery and guest-house. Members of the campaign committee are all major donors to the project.
However, the second half of such a fundraising effort is traditionally the more difficult.
“We on this committee know a lot of people who can help the monks finish this important project,” Hegarty said. “It’s time we got out and started knocking on some doors. Only 101 people have given to this campaign so far, and we’re halfway to our goal.
“Yet in the 150 years the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey have served this region, they have helped a lot more than 101 people. Surely there are enough people out there among the alumni of Benedictine and Maur Hill-Mount Academy, among the parishes served by Benedictines, and among the friends and relatives of the monks, who are willing to give toward that final $2 million.”
Abbot Barnabas Senecal stressed that the campaign, once completed, will enable the monks to be better stewards of God’s gifts and more able to share Benedictine hospitality.
“By replacing the roof and windows, our facilities will be more energy efficient and thus we will be more resourceful with the contributions we receive from so many generous people each year,” he said. “And, of course, by making our church and guesthouse more accessible, we are truly able to welcome as Christ each and every person who comes to our door.”
Abbot Barnabas added that when people give to St. Benedict’s Abbey, they are becoming partners in the mission of the monks.
“We ask for your prayers as well as your financial gift,” said the abbot. “And all of our friends and benefactors are in the daily prayers of the monks as well. For without a doubt, nothing that the monks of St. Benedict’s have accomplished in the past 150 years has been possible without the generosity of our friends.”
The accessibility project cost approximately $2 million, while the roof and window projects will each cost about $1 million.
One challenge in reaching out to alumni of Benedictine College has been the misconception that St. Benedict’s Abbey and Benedictine College are the same entity. While the abbey sponsors and heartily supports the college, the monks and the college have fundraising needs separate from one another.
As a co-founder of the college, the abbey obviously encourages charitable giving to both institutions.
To encourage contributions to the abbey’s capital campaign in particular, however, the monks have announced naming opportunities.
And contributors that act quickly can take advantage of the current Pension Protection Act which allows people over 70 1⁄2 years old to donate as much as $100,000 from their individual retirement accounts to charity. The distributions are tax-free and count toward the minimum required distribution that IRA holders in that age group must take from their accounts each year. This rule will end Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it.
Hegarty wants potential benefactors to know that now is the time to step forward. Because of good stewardship, he said, the monks have traditionally made changes to their facilities through their standard operating budget, but these new projects were simply too large for them to undertake alone.
“The last time the monks launched a capital campaign was 50 years ago, and that was to build the abbey church,” said Hegarty. “Until we finish this campaign, we can’t turn fundraising dollars to important issues like endowments for vocation recruitment, education of young monks, and care for retired monks.”