The year was 1954. And post-war America was booming. The country was growing by leaps and bounds as was the Catholic Church in upstate New York. 

Churches and schools needed to be built. Vocations grew as well as the mission of the Church.

Bishop William Scully was well aware of this and came up with the idea to support the burgeoning Church with a diocesan-wide capital campaign called the Bishop’s Development Fund for Religion and Education. The goal of this one-time campaign was to raise $500,000.
“(The Church) spent the year organizing it. They really marshalled the forces diocesan-wide,” said Thomas Prindle, director of Stewardship and Development for the Diocese.

“They had committee people. It was set up like Albany city politics of that day. Every parish was asked to participate and donate a different amount for each parish and they did that right into 1955. It was hugely successful. 

“From that fund, the Bishop’s Appeal was born. (The Diocese) decided we might as well do it year-in and year-out. So for the last 65 years, what we now call the Bishop’s Appeal, I think may be one of the longest running and most successful annual funds of any charitable organization any place.”

The 65th edition of the Bishop’s Appeal, entitled ‘Thanks To You,’ kicked off on April 27-28, with the money going to support Catholic Charities, Catholic Education, Faith Formation, Vocations and Support Services, just to name a few programs.

“The fact that the people of the Diocese, the parishes of the Diocese, every year come together, it’s a beautiful thing,” said Prindle, who grew up in the South End of Albany and went to Our Lady Help of Christians and then St. Clare’s Church in Colonie. “It’s the one time out of the year that all parishes join as one and really demonstrate a commitment to building up the Church. The programs, the social outreach programs, vocations, schools all the things that the collective mission of the Church supports.”   

The Bishop’s Development Fund that became a reality under Bishop Scully, was renamed the Diocesan Development Fund, better known as the DDP, and finally the Bishop’s Appeal under Bishop Howard Hubbard.

Now parishioners will receive a glossy brochure in the mail detailing the Bishop’s Appeal, but Prindle said back in the day a film was made which would be shown at Mass. 

“Everybody knew (The Appeal) was coming and people were expected to do their bit,” Prindle said. “In lieu of the homily, they would wheel the great big projector, two big 16mm projectors and show the movie and it was great; the film would break and they would have to bring the lights up and tape it back together … so the message was driven home.”

For example, the 1973 movie entitled “Through a Christian Expression of Love,” featured Bishop Edwin Broderick and, in 1978, Bishop Hubbard’s campaign was called “Rejoice, We are His People.” Both films ran nearly 15 minutes long.  

Volunteers were aplenty then and they would make a visit to your house. Prindle said the volunteers were like the old “ward heelers,” political operatives who would go door-to-door seeking patronage.

“During that week on my street, Mr. (Fred) Eisler was his name, he would come around and knock on the door and he would sit down and have a cup of coffee and (my mother) would give him her check for the year and that’s the way it was done.”

Prindle is quick to point out the money is only used for the programs and services it is allocated for.

“No. 1, the money does go where we say it goes,” Prindle added. “It’s dedicated to the specific program areas of the Church. … As the Bishop said  … without the support of the people, these things don’t happen. I would hope that people would look at, and think about, and reflect on the overall mission of the Church, which is to teach, heal and sanctify. The Bishop’s Appeal enables the collective Church, the diocesan C2hurch, to do things that no single parish could accomplish on its own.” 

Prindle, while noting the fragility of the Appeal — 20 years ago, 50,000 donated; while last year the number was 26,670 — remains undaunted.

“What’s really miraculous is even though the numbers have dwindled in the last 20 years,” Prindle said. “the people of the Diocese are so generous, that we are still able to, not exceed, but get very, very close to our intended goal for the year.”