The Diocese of Little Rock is adding a new collection Holy Thursday to address the immediate needs of educating the diocese's 27 seminarians.
The number of men studying for the priesthood has nearly doubled in four years, but the income to pay for their education has lagged.
While the diocese operates the Msgr. James. E. O'Connell Diocesan Seminarian Fund, the earnings from the endowment are not adequate to pay for the current college and seminary tuition bills. This fiscal year the diocese will spend $1.1 million for seminarian and office expenses. Seminarians are provided with tuition, housing, books, health insurance, transportation to and from school, monthly stipends and summer educational training free of charge. The average expenses for each seminarian are $32,000 a year.
The Seminarian Fund currently has about $10 million, said Greg Wolfe, diocesan finance director.
Parishioners attending Masses March 28-29 will hear a letter written by Msgr. Scott Friend, vicar general and vocations director. Special collection envelopes will be handed out during the Masses. Parishioners are encouraged to donate money during the second collection this weekend, mail their contribution in or bring the envelope to Mass on Holy Thursday, April 9.
Instead of depositing the collection into the Seminarian Fund, the diocese will use the donations for immediate expenses, Msgr. Friend said.
"This is a short-term thing, just to pay the bills," Msgr. Friend said.
In addition to the Holy Thursday Collection for Seminarians, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor has designated $75,000 of the Catholic Arkansas Sharing Appeal to help pay for tuition.
In the long term, the diocese has worked with an actuary to project how large the Seminarian Fund needs to be in order to pay for 40 seminarians, which is a goal of Msgr. Friend. The diocese expects to have between 30 and 35 seminarians in the fall 2009.
The actuary projected the fund needed to grow to be about $35 million to $45 million.
"Everything that is given (to the collection) is going to be used directly to pay for someone's tuition, room and board, health insurance, etc.," he said. "If we get more than what (is needed) this year, then we will invest the money with the rest of the corpus (in the Seminarian Fund)."
Msgr. Friend said the investment made by Catholics over the past several decades is paying off and prayers are being answered. In addition to two men being ordained this year, it is expected another 15 men will become priests in the next five years.
Msgr. Friend said Holy Thursday was chosen for the collection date for its special significance.
"It is when Christ institutes the priesthood," he said. "It is where we celebrate the Last Supper. It seems like an appropriate time to focus on that day."
Donations to the Holy Thursday Collection can be sent to the Finance Office, P.O. Box 7239, Little Rock, AR 72217.
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