‘Upon This Rock’ | Building a solid foundation for seminarians, priests and parishes

Anne Marie Amacher
Bishop Thomas Zinkula prays the Eucharistic Prayer during an ordination Mass last summer. Deacon Ben Snyder, left, and Deacon Dale Mallory anticipate ordination to the priesthood this June.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Deacon Mike Snyder recalls attending a meeting of Bettendorf’s two parishes where he learned about the projected number of priests available for ministry in the next decade and “how that might affect our parishes in Bettendorf.”

In 2021, the diocese had 98 priests, 39 of whom are retired, and 33 of whom are age 60 or above. Some priests remain active beyond the retirement age of 70. However, 73% of diocesan priests were retired or within 10 years of the retirement age. “Those numbers are stark,” said Deacon Snyder of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, who co-chairs the Diocese of Davenport’s “Upon This Rock” capital campaign. “We need more seminarians so that we can get more priests, and it costs money to get seminarians ready for priesthood.”

The diocese kicks off the public phase of its $28 million capital campaign in 16 parishes April 23-24 and April 30-May 1. The campaign is raising money for the retirement and health care costs of priests, for seminarians’ education costs and for parishes, which will determine the projects they want to fund. To date, the campaign has raised nearly $7 million (around 25%) of the goal in gifts and pled­ges, said Michael Hoffman, diocesan director of De­vel­op­­ment and Stew­­­­ard­ship. That includes nearly $1.4 million from the priests of the diocese.


“We are called to build a house that is set solidly on firm foundations so that we can provide for the spiritual needs of the people in southeast Iowa,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said. “In particular, we are called at this pivotal time to address the pressing financial costs in providing for our retired and elderly priests, to secure stable funding to form and educate tomorrow’s priests, and to address the many needs our parishes face at the parochial level.”

Educating tomorrow’s priests

In his role as diocesan director of the diaconate, Deacon Snyder visits parishes around the diocese. His talks focus on discerning a vocation, particularly to the diaconate. However, “as I talk about that, I think about priests. I look out into the church and wonder how many potential priests are there right now.”

Seminarians’ education costs total around $55,000 a year per seminarian, funded in part through the Annual Diocesan Appeal. Funding raised in the capital campaign would help reduce the expense for the diocese and its parishes. Eight seminarians are discerning a call to the priesthood; until recently, that number was around 11 to 14.

Deacon Dale Mallory, who anticipates ordination to the priesthood in June, already had a four-year degree when he began the discernment process. His parents, Dale and Lori Mallory, wondered how he would pay for his seminary education. They did not know that a fund managed by the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Davenport has covered the costs of seminary education and formation in recent years. However, without additional funds, the fund for seminarians could be depleted as soon as 2024, according to the campaign case statement.

Lori Mallory, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville, serves on the capital campaign cabinet. She is hopeful that people will support the capital campaign’s priorities, such as $5.7 million for seminarian education costs, if they know what goes into the expenditures. Her personal experience as a seminarian’s mother provides the opportunity to share the light of understanding with others, she believes.

“Without priests we would not have the sacraments of the anointing of the sick, the Eucharist, reconciliation, confirmation and holy orders,” Deacon Snyder said. Having access to the sacraments is one of the reasons that he agreed to co-chair the capital campaign.

Another reason is “the realization that our priests have given their lives to the Church and to us and it’s our responsibility to provide for them and not only when they are in active ministry. We need to provide for them in retirement.”

Providing for retired priests

Priests’ housing costs are covered during their active ministry but they are responsible for those expenses in retirement. Each retired priest’s situation varies. They live on a mix of personal savings, Social Security and a monthly stipend of about $2,000 from the Priests’ Aid Society. The society, a nonprofit organization separate from the diocese, has been instrumental in helping priests cover the cost of health care and retirement.

“When I was ordained in 1970, we received $125 a month for salary — plus, of course, room and board. In the 52 years since, that monthly salary has gone up but in those days it was sometimes difficult to put aside anything for the future,” said Father George McDaniel, now retired. His ministry in parishes and academia has been “a blessing and a joy,” added Father McDaniel, who chairs the Priests Committee of the capital campaign.

“Through the Priests’ Aid Society, I have been blessed with good health insurance all these years. Now I receive a monthly stipend in my retirement, which helps supplement my Medicare and drug and dental costs through the generosity of the people in the parishes,” he said.

The organization provides the support and the mechanism by which each parish and institution where priests work pay into that fund. “The success of the campaign would mean that we could rely more on the income from the endowment and lower somewhat the amount each parish and institution is assessed to support the Priests’ Aid Society,” Father McDaniel said.

When he was ordained in 1976, Father John Spiegel said the diocese had more parishes, especially rural ones, and many pastors had a parochial vicar to assist with parish responsibilities. Since then, parishes have closed or merged and some pastors now lead multiple parishes. The demands affect their ability to serve in active ministry beyond age 70, said Father Spiegel, who celebrated his 72nd birthday this week after presiding at Holy Week Masses and services in Montrose. He enjoys assisting but does not want to serve as a pastor in retirement.

Father Spiegel said he is serving on the Priests Committee because the capital campaign responds proactively to growing needs in the diocese. As more priests retire in the next 10 years, the Priests’ Aid Society fund will have to grow, he said. The cost of educating seminarians for the priesthood will continue to rise, as well. “Anyone pursuing a graduate degree knows those costs have grown exponentially.”

Strengthening our Church

Roger and Barb Reilly of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City agreed to serve on the capital campaign’s cabinet because they see the campaign’s facets as necessary to “keep our faith alive and well,” Roger Reilly said. “Supporting seminarians in their education and discernment will make our Church stronger in the future. There is a need for more good men to choose the priesthood as their vocation and our support will allow more men to accept this calling. For the needs of the aging and retired priests who labored so many years for us, it is only right we provide funds to support them in their retirement. Priests do not get paid overtime for their many hours of dedicated service nor do they receive stock options for their loyal and faithful work.”

“The third portion of the campaign will help the local parishes take care of extraordinary parish needs not easily supported on the parish level. By giving to the campaign, each parish receives a 20% return on their dollar, a very good investment in today’s economy. We would ask all parishioners to consider a sacrificial gift to the campaign because their donations will strengthen our Church and support our priests.”

“Bishop Zinkula and diocesan leadership have discerned that this capital campaign will help the parishes meet current needs in infrastructure or ministry while also helping priests and future priests of this diocese,” said Father Jake Greiner. He is pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport and director of seminarians. “As a priest, pastor and diocesan employee, I have witnessed the generosity of the faithful people that fill the Diocese of Davenport, and I anticipate that this same generosity will help to make this campaign successful.”

About the campaign

Sixty percent of funds raised in “Upon This Rock,” the $28 million capital campaign of the Diocese of Davenport, will go toward retirement and health care needs of the priests, 20% to fund seminarian education costs, and 20% for parishes. The 16-parish “Pilot Wave” begins this weekend and next weekend. Two additional waves covering the remaining 58 parishes will take place later. The campaign is scheduled to run until fall 2023.

The Diocese of Davenport includes 85,000 Catholics, 98 priests (active and retired), 22 counties in southeast Iowa, about 7,500 students served by 13 elementary schools, five high schools and one university. Parish-based faith formation programs serve about 5,400 other students.

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