ALLOUEZ — Imagine going to the sock drawer, expecting clean socks, and the drawer is empty.
Fr. Dan Felton remembers that happening to him when he first went away to college. He remembers asking himself, “‘How can that be? There have always been socks in the sock drawer.’”
Then he realized that “for that many years, my mom had been washing my socks and putting them in the sock drawer.”
Fr. Felton, diocesan moderator of the curia, said this experience in some ways mimics what someone in a parish might feel about all the many services and programs offered by the diocese — that the socks will always be there.
Having been a priest for almost 24 years, he’s more often been that person working in a parish, a “recipient of so many programs and services from the diocese, the relationships that are formed with the diocese.”
Today, he has a different perspective.
“I think that the services, programs and relationships that I was able to embrace in the parish setting often were limited to the specific needs we had at that time and in that parish,” he explained. “I was aware of some of the programs, services and relationships that were being offered and the partnerships, but now being moderator of the curia and overseeing all the departments, I am taken back by how much is offered — not only in quantity but in quality. It’s overwhelming at times the opportunities that are afforded us by the Bishop’s Appeal, to reach out in literally hundreds of ways to our parishes to be of support.”
On Jan. 1 this year, Fr. Felton became moderator of the curia, which means he oversees the diocesan departments and staff — known collectively as “the curia.” He explains the curia as being an extension of the bishop himself “out into the diocese, with the vision of ministry that he (Bishop Ricken) wants to provide to parishioners.”
In his new position, Fr. Felton is now seeing, if you will, just how the socks get washed, folded and put away in the many drawers that are the services and programs offered by the diocese to parishes and Catholic schools around the diocese. And many of those programs and services are funded by the annual Bishop’s Appeal.
He said that parishes continually rise to the challenge of offering a variety of ministries in a variety of areas, with limited resources and small staffs.
“So it’s a complementary role that the diocese plays, in a partnership with a parish. Together, we are able to continue to provide and sustain good quality programs and service. The Bishop’s Appeal is integral in that partnership.”
He also has come to realize that the Bishop’s Appeal is far more than programs and services. “Even I continue to make reference to that (programs and services), but in the end the Bishop’s Appeal is about relationships; it’s about people.”
As a pastor, Fr. Felton experienced families and couples in crisis moments — grief, financial losses, family strife. Because of the services funded by the Bishop’s Appeal, he was always able to turn to a variety of resources: many socks in many drawers.
“We can have families who are in the position where they might be losing their home or their car or their livelihood,” he noted, “and we have the capacity, locally, through Catholic Charities, to have them meet with somebody who can help them with financial counseling to help get them back on their feet. In that sense, when we’re doing that, it’s the diocesan department and the parish forming a partnership where we are the presence of Christ to that family.”
It’s not just crisis moments, either, but also in faith moments — from faith formation in schools to prayer experiences for adults — when the Bishop’s Appeal helps. These can be found in tried and true programs such as the training of catechists through the Department of Education or in new programs, such as the Man Camp weekend retreat offered this month at Camp Tekakwitha in rural Shawano County. Camp Tekakwitha is also funded by the Bishop’s Appeal and provides summer camp for children as well as year-round offerings for adults and families.
Then there is a special moment that Fr. Felton just shared at a recent Sunday Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Weyauwega. All the ministries that day were handled by the young people in the religious education program. It was part of the parish’s response to Bishop Ricken’s pastoral letter — “Parishes: Called to be Holy, Fully Engaged, Fully Alive” — but it was also intended to deepen the prayer experience for youth and the parish overall.
Fr. Felton noted that the diocese had made available the resources — such as catechist training — that helped the parish’s religious education personnel do what they do best.
“What really struck me,” he said about the Mass, “was that they were very proud of the fact that they were doing this. The young adults were excited to be doing this.
“It was just a wonderful experience, both for the parish and for me, of how we, as a diocese and a parish, had collaborated and come together to make that happen.”
Events like that assure Fr. Felton that the Bishop’s Appeal works, and works well. And he hopes that motivates people who give to the Appeal.
“There are so many demands for the limited resources that each one of us has,” he said, “and sometimes (requests for donations) can be overwhelming. … What’s always struck me about the Bishop’s Appeal, both on a diocesan level and locally in the parish, is that we’re kind of ‘one stop, one shop,’ in a sense that — by giving to the Bishop’s Appeal — we are literally helping hundreds of people (the curia) to be mobilized to reach out to thousands of people who will benefit by the programs and services and relationships that are formed through the Bishop’s Appeal.”
In his new responsibilities as moderator of the curia, he oversees the budget process for diocesan departments. With new eyes, he examined how funds are used and how departments work with resources.
“I can personally attest to the fact that there is no waste here,” he said of the curia. “People are very conscientious of and very thorough in making sure that the resources provided by Bishop’s Appeal are used well.”
And because of that, Fr. Felton believes that the sock drawer will always hold fresh socks — “grief counseling, financial counseling, the training of teachers, the background checks, whatever ministries and services” — whenever anyone turns to it in need.