One of the most iconic churches in America – if not the world – is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. It is a great example of a storied institution finding new ways to support the community it serves and provide new ways – including DipJar – for the community to support its good work. To learn about this, we spoke with Robert Meyer, the executive director of development for the Cathedral.
Meyer has been an institutional fundraiser for more than a decade. His work was previously focused on higher education. Past positions included Temple University, Fordham University, and SUNY Buffalo. We talked about how fundraising for the Cathedral differed from these institutions and it comes down to the relationship the donor has with the organization.
Asking alums for money can be a challenge since many are still repaying student debts and the relationship with the school is typically in the past. A faith-based organization, on the other hand, is usually a much more significant – and more current – part of people’s lives.
“This is a job like no other,” he told us.
And that’s because St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a place like no other. It is used by people in many different ways. Some come for peace and solitude or spiritual enlightenment. Often people come not for reasons of faith but because they are interested in its architecture or role in the community. Regardless of the reason, the Cathedral stands ready to play its part in the life of the city, the country, and the world.
The Cathedral was originally built by immigrants for immigrants and still plays that welcoming role today. While the parishioners of the 19th century were largely coming from Ireland, about half of the congregation today are Spanish-speaking. Its work with immigrants has been a consistent theme for the Cathedral: offering a welcoming place for those who may not feel welcome elsewhere.
It’s become more than that since it opened in 1879. For New Yorkers of every faith, the Cathedral has served as the place where people can come together to mourn. It has also been a special place of celebration. This year – as it has for so many – the Cathedral will hold a St. Patrick’s Day mass and will host a limited number of spectators for the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
It’s a welcome return to normalcy after two years of COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic has been broad – and unexpected – in many ways. For example, while St. Patrick’s has streamed daily mass for many years, these celebrations would attract a few thousand people. Now, there are almost one million people participating in services.
Visits to the Cathedral also plummeted. Prior to COVID, as many as seven million people visited St. Patrick’s every year. From March to June of 2020, the building was closed to the public – a rarity in its long history. Starting in June 2020, the Cathedral began welcoming visitors again, but only 300 per week. Fast forward 18 months and 15-20,000 people are once again able to worship, reflect, and tour St. Patrick’s every week.
While visitors come to the Cathedral from around the world, St. Patrick’s strives to provide a parish feel for its core community. The nature of the institution – especially in the time of COVID – has prevented it from providing direct services to the community. It has, instead, partnered with social service agencies to do this important work.
For many, one of the most important impacts of the Cathedral is the sense of peace that comes over people in its beautiful and sacred space. A major activity for visitors is to light a prayer candle. There are more than 5,000 candles at St. Patrick’s and additional virtual ones for people unable to visit the church in person. As with the daily streaming masses, the virtual candles are another example of the Cathedral keeping up with the technology times.
There are others. Until recently, collections conducted during mass were limited to checks or cash. Now, QR codes appear in every pew and on the church’s live stream, parishioners have new ways to give. DipJar is also part of this new approach. The first DipJars were put in place in 2016, and their use has only expanded over time. Now, they are located in the church offices, providing a convenient opportunity for cashless contributions.
The DipJars are also present amongst the prayer candles, allowing people to make an offering as they have so often in the past – but with a 21st-century twist. In a nod to tradition, though, these DipJars are housed in custom-created decorative bases that were created by Frank Chiarelli of Chiarelli’s Chuch Supply. These encasements are in keeping with the mood and spirit of the building. St. Patrick’s is an inspiring space. DipJar is proud to support this storied institution – and to have helped the cathedral raise more than $140,000.