#iGiveCatholic’s ‘Rocky’: A priest, a trainer and a dream

By Peter Finney, Clarion Herald
Photo | COURTESY ST. BENILDE  SCHOOL

According to Father Matthew Johnston, the first-year pastor of St. Benilde Parish in Metairie, the inspiration for a “Rocky”-themed #iGiveCatholic promotional video, hatched by school principal Thomas Huck, had just the right touch of craziness.

Why not promote the school’s Giving Tuesday campaign, Huck suggested to Father Johnston, with a brief video that featured the new pastor as Rocky, doing all sorts of sight-gag calisthenics, with the cinematic purpose of helping the school reach what looked like an impossible goal?

The result was not exactly red-carpet material for Oscar night, but the humorous, two-minute clip garnered enough attention to win top prize for promotional videos and create a buzz that helped St. Benilde School collect $78,450 during the #iGiveCatholic campaign on Dec. 3.

$7.4 million raised in U.S.

Nearly $1.5 million was raised in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and more than $7.4 million nationwide for participating Catholic parishes, schools and nonprofit ministries in 39 dioceses during the 24-hour online #iGiveCatholic campaign.

But all anyone was talking about was Father Johnston’s video, which went viral with about 6,000 views and 200 shares.

“I can’t take credit for that one,” Father Johnston said, citing the video that showed him stretching telephone cords in each hand and then doing push-ups while Huck, also known as “Paulie” the trainer, weighed him down by placing a few #iGiveCatholic placards on his back.

“Tom used to be a mascot when he was back in college, so he has a lot of these really good ideas in the back of his mind,” Father Johnston said. “He said, ‘We should do it,’ and I agreed, wisely or not.”

The video took only an hour to shoot, and it was put together by fine arts teacher Molly Zamora.

“It was a lot of spur-of-the-moment stuff,” Father Johnston said. “We had watched this Rocky montage the night before and got a few ideas about what he would do in his training. The comments we got were very positive. I told people after Mass, ‘If you want to enjoy a laugh at my expense, go watch the video.’”

A caring community

Cory J. Howat, executive director of the Catholic Community Foundation, said the results of the giving day – now in its fifth year – were “a testament to how much New Orleanians care about their community.”

“After five years, parishes and schools and ministries have successfully turned this into their annual appeal,” Howat said. “That’s the most hopeful thing, because the big dig against ‘giving days’ is that they are not sustainable development. But when you see the schools and ministries turn it into a low-cost way to do their annual appeal, that’s exciting. They now see it integrated into the core of their ministry.”

At the close of the 24-hour period, 29,531 nationwide donors, including more than 3,750 New Orleanians, gave money to Catholic causes. Gifts came from all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, as well as 10 countries outside of the U.S., including Afghanistan, Guam and the Philippines.

Created and launched by the Catholic Community Foundation as a New Orleans-based giving day, #iGiveCatholic has grown to yield great national impact.

In 2018, #iGiveCatholic nationally raised more than $5.6 million from more than 23,000 donors to support parishes, schools and nonprofit ministries. This year’s initiative tripled the amount of parishes, schools and nonprofit ministries participating under the umbrella of 39 dioceses from across the country.

“Nationally, we saw some amazing things,” Howat said. “When Archbishop Wilton Gregory transferred from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., he asked whether D.C. was doing #iGiveCatholic, and one of the first things he told his development staff was, ‘We’re doing #iGiveCatholic this year.’ It’s really cool to see the spread of this.”

For more information about #iGiveCatholic or to view the full list of results (sortable by archdiocese/diocese, organization, total gifts or total dollars), visit www.iGiveCatholic.org.

Next year’s giving day will be #GivingTuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Registration for organizations interested in participating will open in August 2020.

The Catholic Community Foundation has been connecting donors with parishes, schools and nonprofit ministries since 1976. Once known as the Catholic Foundation, the organization built upon its trusted reputation by adding “Community” in its name this past year to better reflect its vision, mission and services.

“The foundation’s role is fostering generosity,” Howat said. “We provide prize money for best videos and most individual donors because we just want to see good development happening across the archdiocese. It’s nice to be able to see the traction some of these parishes get and how they’ve taken ownership of it.”

Top 10 list

The Top 10 Catholic entities in terms of money raised were Catholic Charities of Acadiana in Lafayette ($201,694); Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans ($150,132); Second Harvest Food Bank ($147,658); St. Pius X High School in Atlanta ($140,718); Manhattan Catholic Schools in Kansas ($91,855); Tulane Catholic Center ($84,680); St. Michael Special School ($83,010); Covenant House New Orleans ($80,259); Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center in Lafayette ($78,602); and St. Benilde School ($78,450).

Father Johnston said the school will use its donations to improve its engineering and fine arts curricula, enhance its program for exceptional learners and provide seed money for a pavilion over its outdoor basketball court.

Rocky has a secret

Father Johnston admits he is a Rocky fan. “I’ve seen the first four movies, but I’ve always been told, with ‘Rocky V,’ you can get away without seeing it,” he said.

What does he have planned for next year?

“That’s a secret,” Father Johnston said.

He’s learned one thing in his first year as a pastor: Never tip off the competition.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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