Monday 8 August 2011

Where are all the Catholic Philanthropists?

Just askin'.

I don't mean the grand-gesture industrial magnates who throw a cool million or two towards a papal visit or a new school. These guys are useful, helpful, and obviously every little penny helps, but the "grand gesture" philanthropists aren't -- or at least shouldn't be - the bread-and-butter of giving to the Church.

When WW2 broke out and Belfast was being hammered by the Luftwaffe, my grandfather, a self-made man, gave away all but one of his collection of six or seven cars to local priests to enable them to visit the sick, injured and dying. Today this seems like a grand gesture, but I don't think that my grandfather saw it as such. He just did what was needed. He gave without counting the cost as an old Parish Priest of ours was fond of saying. Anyone in his position would have done the same, and it was never mentioned in his lifetime; he would have been mortified. He simply did what he could to help, as did many, many other people. For people of that generation it was taken for granted that helping to the best of your abilities or resources is what you did.

In a similar vein - unremarkable then, remarkable now: our former parish church, like many, was paid for entirely by the local population. It was built in the early 20th C, but had extensive additions later on, also paid for by the local population. People saved and gave. I remember reading the history of the parish and wondering whether it would be possible, less than a hundred years later, to have the same thing happen if the church needed to be replaced for some reason. I doubt it, not because local people aren't devoted to their parish, nor because the parish lacks a stable congregation (it doesn't, it's a thriving and much more affluent parish than it would have been a century ago). People's priorities are different now. There's an assumption that somebody else pays. That "somebody"  might be a corporate body, or "the Church" (clearly removing ourselves from the equation), or the government, or one of the super-rich, but I don't think that the layperson in the pews sees himself as a philanthropic giver in the way that people used, a few short generations ago.

Reading Fr. Finigan's post about Sacred Heart Church in Limerick and thinking about the money needed for the new ICKSP apostolate in New Birghton Wirral made me wonder about the "whos" and "hows" of funding such projects.

It's entirely up to us: me and you. If we don't take responsibility for the things that matter, then who will? The time is now to give and not count the cost.


  1. Have you investigated rates of income and other tax over the past two hundred years?

  2. @berenike -- not "investigated" per se but I'm only too painfully aware of the increase in personal taxation. On the other hand, I don't think that tax alone is the most significant factor in the decrease in donations to the Church. At all levels of society we now have more disposable income than ever before in history; if anything the sacrifice for the average family would be less than, say, 50 years ago (choosing not to have, say, a flat-screen TV is hardly a hardship, yet that unnecessary expenditure is something that many take for granted). Tax aside, we're choosing to spend our *residual* household income differently these days.