This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue.
By Frances Putman
Not long ago, parishioners at Our Lady of Calvary Catholic Church in Philadelphia celebrated the 50th anniversary of their church. While it was a time of celebration, it was also a time for reflection.
As parishioners looked at their half-century-old church, they assessed the condition of their facility and what needed to be done to bring it up-to-date. Suddenly, they were faced with a laundry list of needs for the church and its adjoining school. The heating and air conditioning systems were old and needed to be replaced, as did many of the windows in the church building. All of the school buildings needed new roofs, and the gym floor was old and needed to be replaced.
“We were looking at a major restoration/renovation project, after identifying the needs that we had,” recalled Father John Paul, the church’s pastor.
As always, a major project means major expenses, and the church needed a way to pay for them without incurring additional debt. After considering many options, they chose the Tree of Life program offered by Cave Company, www.churchgoods.net, located in Old Westbury, New York. Many churches around the country have chosen this program, which encourages donors to purchase bronze plaques to create an attractive wall display in their churches.
A rear wall in the sanctuary was chosen to display the cast bronze trunk of the Tree of Life, which members at Our Lady of Calvary designated as a Tree of Blessing. From there, donors purchased pieces to complete the tree, like foundation stones, leaves and acorns, all of which were actually custom-engraved, brass plaques mounted on sculpted plexiglass backgrounds. Each stone, leaf or acorn was personalized with the name of the donor, or placed in honor or memory of a loved one. In addition to parishioners, other groups that meet in the church, like scouting and community groups, also raised funds to purchase leaves and acorns.
“It has been a great success,” said Paul, noting that the program has raised more than $400,000 for his church. “We designated the money to restore the elements of the parish that had been identified.”
The majority of funds raised through this program came in within the first 18 months, Paul said. However, it is an ongoing program. Additional funds raised have also allowed the church to replace kneelers in the sanctuary. Since additional branches can be added to the trees, the program can continue indefinitely.
“The most over-looked detail in raising money is the recognition or ‘thank you’ to the donors,” said Gregory Cave of the Cave Company. “The tree allows folks to thank themselves as well as donating a significant amount of money.”
When the program at Our Lady of Calvary first kicked off, a few church members stepped forward to purchase foundation stones, which were sold for $5,000 each. Donors also had the option of purchasing tree-shaped plaques, which were placed beside trunk of the tree, each selling for $15,000. The leaves filling out the branches of the Tree of Life each sold for $1,000, while the acorns sold for $3,000. The church even offered a sort of pledge program, where parishioners could make a deposit on a leaf and then pay the full amount with smaller payments each month.
The cost of each leaf, acorn and stone was chosen by the church, as individual congregations know best what their memberships will support. Some churches have been able to charge $500 or more per leaf. Others charge less.
When about 30 to 40 leaves or acorns were purchased, a new branch was created. The church then sent a list of names and information to Cave Company, which engraved the brass plaques and sent them to the church. It was exciting to watch as the plaques were placed on the wall, filling out the tree. Each leaf meant that more money had been raised and that the church was closer to meeting its fundraising goals.
The response from church members, Paul said, has been overwhelmingly positive. And, working with the Cave Company has been a great experience, he said.
In addition to the traditional Tree of Life, the company also offers a tropical-type tree structure, as well as other fundraising options.
Now, with about 300 leaves filling out its branches, the Tree of Life at Our Lady of Calvary is an attractive and meaningful part of the church’s worship space. The program offered parishioners an opportunity to get involved and be a part of something special. And, the Tree of Life stands as a proud display of donor support.
“It’s giving them something back, in a sense,” said Paul. “It is something they can see and appreciate.”