The annual Bishop’s Luncheon, one of the most popular events hosted by the First Friday Club of Cleveland, once again didn’t disappoint.
The sold-out program took place Feb. 1 at Windows on the River in The Flats. Bishop Edward Malesic updated attendees on the state of the diocese, packing plenty of information into the hourlong program as he offered a glimpse of developments in several key areas from the past year.
In addition to the bishop’s presentation, John FitzGerald, a First Friday Club board member and a past president, received the 2024 Bishop Roger Gries Heart of a Servant Award. The presentation recognized his years of service to the club. Gerald Schroer Jr., Bishop’s Luncheon event chair, presented the award.
“John, thank you for being the man, the husband and the father that you are,” Schroer said, adding FitzGerald led the club through some challenging times and helped it regain its footing.
FitzGerald was emotional as he accepted the award, saying he “stands on the shoulders of giants.” Each of us receives time, talent and treasure and it’s up to us to use these gifts wisely. The award, an engraved glass bowl, was presented for the first time in 2022 to Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries, OSB, who served for many years as spiritual moderator for the club.
Schroer also introduced Bishop Malesic, sharing a brief biography of the 12th diocesan shepherd who is in his third year leading the 600,000-plus Catholics in the eight-county Diocese of Cleveland.
“He likes to say he’s a paperboy from Steelton, Pennsylvania,” Schroer quipped, as he asked the crowd “to give a warm welcome to a truly remarkable spiritual leader” he described as “a good Samaritan and a good shepherd.”
The bishop’s talk focused on several topics including the Keeping the Faith strategic plan for Catholic schools; generosity of the people in the diocese; pro-life issues, including next steps after the November 2023 election that enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution; and an update on the National Eucharistic Revival.
Education/Keeping the Faith
He discussed education first, sharing the news that for the first time since the 1997-1998 school year, there was an enrollment increase at every education level – preschool, elementary and secondary – calling it “both encouraging and a very positive sign for the future.”
During the past year, Bishop Malesic said several steps were taken to ensure that goals of the Keeping the Faith initiative could be met. Some of the key steps were:
- Hiring a director of Catholic identity to support the schools and staff to ensure the specifically and uniquely Catholic mission is shared consistently and understood across the diocese.
- Beginning implementation of standards-based learning at every elementary school in the diocese in order to ensure academic excellence.
- Forming local, collaborative groups of parishes and schools to ensure every parish is involved in the ministry of Catholic education – whether or not the parish has its own school.
- Continuing staff development efforts through the Aspiring Leaders program. Twenty-nine people are participating this school year. Also, 20 principals develop leadership and coaching skills through partner institutions.
- Making/keeping Catholic schools accessible and affordable to all who want their children to attend a Catholic school. “Affordability should not be a barrier for any family wishing to send their child to a Catholic school,” Bishop Malesic said. He noted the unparalleled access to Catholic schools through EdChoice scholarships from the state. “Parents now can make a real choice to educate and form their children through our Catholic schools. That is good news for kids and parents,” he added.
- And finally, a director of marketing was hired to support the schools in telling the stories of what makes them special and reaching out to potential new families. “We have a good story to tell and we want to tell it,” the bishop said.
Generosity of the faithful
The bishop commended people across the diocese who gave generously to support the many ministries supporting those in need, including Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, which was established in 1912 and is one of the largest social service organizations in the region. In 2023, he said the annual campaign received $15.5 million in donations and pledges, $1 million more than the goal. Also, the number of donors increased by 2,000 from 2022.
“Yes, people want to help people,” he said.
Those who donate to Catholic Charities help to provide more than 400,000 people each year with a myriad of programs including serving and delivering meals, housing for the homeless, offering assisted and skilled nursing care, providing early childhood development programs, summer camps , disability services for families and children with special needs and more.
“Thank you for your help,” Bishop Malesic said. He noted the 2024 Catholic Charities appeal will begin this month and the need continues. He encouraged people to learn about the work of the local Catholic Charities ministries. “At the end of the day, we are blessed by God in order to be a blessing for others.”
The bishop also recapped last November’s #weGIVECATHOLIC event that took place on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, and raised more than $3.6 million for 235 participating Catholic schools and organizations. “My heartfelt thanks to the 11,000 donors and sponsors who set a new record for #weGIVECATHOLIC,” he added.
The Alleluia Ball in October 2023 raised more than $1.6 million for Catholic school assistance to help families afford a Catholic education for their children. The bishop congratulated Alleluia Ball chairs Mike and Mary Lynn Sylvestro for their leadership.
In addition, the Fund a Dream program, led by Lorraine Dodero, gives donors an opportunity to designate $2,500 in tuition assistance for an individual Catholic school student in need. The program, which links donors, students and their families, generated more than $525,000 in 2023.
Another funding opportunity – the Angel Scholarship Fund – raised more than $5.2 million last year, an increase of $700,000 since it debuted in 2022. This program allows Ohioans to receive a 100% tax credit on their state income taxes for up to $750 per person in cash donations to certified scholarship-granting organizations.
“This is a no-brainer,” the bishop said, noting he participates in the program.
Pro-life, November election
The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception and, because of that, every life must be respected from conception until natural death, the bishop said.
“Defending the sanctity of life is simply part of who we are and what we do,” Bishop Malesic said, adding that’s why the election results were such a blow to those who worked so hard to educate people across the state about the dangers of enshrining abortion into the state constitution.
“It was a sad day for me, I must admit. Now what do we do? We continue to teach about the sanctity of life and make people aware of the dangers of abortion, not only to the unborn child whose life is ended, but also to the child’s mother and father, who can suffer from ongoing and serious psychological, spiritual and sometimes physical harm because of it,” he said.
The bishop said he believes there is a correlation between the violence of abortion in the womb contributing to the increasing violence occurring outside the womb. “Violence begets violence and we see it in how we treat each other in our families, neighborhoods, schools and places of work. So, we must continue to promote the dignity of all human life.”
In addition, he stressed the importance of continuing to walk with and assist expectant mothers who face the challenges of unplanned or difficult pregnancies as well as those who find it difficult to care for their children after birth. Zelie’s Home, which provides housing and other needed services to pregnant and parenting women, the Christ Child Society and Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland are among the organizations that have a variety of programs to help these women and their families.
Walking with Moms in Need programs, initiated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and being established across the diocese, are another way to support these vulnerable women and families. More information is available at walkingwithmoms.com and on the diocesan pregnancy resource page.
The three-year National Eucharistic Revival is approaching the end of its second year. The third and final phase, the mission phase, is upcoming.
The bishop reviewed the revival and what took place in the diocese as part of the program, including a series of ballpark Masses last year. One additional ballpark Mass – a bilingual Spanish/English liturgy – is set for June 24 at Canal Park in Akron. Details will be forthcoming.
The third and final year of the revival will focus on “What is your mission?” the bishop said.
The diocese also will be participating actively in the National Eucharistic Congress July 17-21 in Indianapolis, Indiana, with both Bishop Maleic and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost attending. There also will be a 250-member diocesan delegation with representatives from each of the districts in the diocese who will participate in formation before the congress. These delegates will return home as missionaries to share their experiences, help others fall more in love with Jesus in the Eucharist and to serve God in their communities, he added.
In closing, the bishop once again recalled the Nov. 1. 2023 Eucharistic Revival Rally and Mass that brought more than 3,000 students from 19 Catholic high schools throughout the diocese to Public Auditorium in downtown Cleveland.
Calling it “one of my most cherished experiences from last year,” he said it was one of the largest gatherings of high school teens in the history of the diocese. “The joy, enthusiasm, love of Christ and faith I saw demonstrated that day was absolutely inspiring,” he said, introducing a brief video with highlights of the event.
After his presentation, the bishop answered a few questions, greeted audience members and posed for photos.
Click here to learn more about upcoming First Friday Club of Cleveland programs and the club, which was established in 1958.