In The Beginning
"All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Jim Holland and three of his fellow-parishioners, Gerald McKenna, Gerard Porter and Arthur Wojtowicz, had come from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in neighboring Wayne at the request of Paul Forbes, a friend and former neighbor who had moved to Franklin Lakes.
The visiting speakers recalled the sad financial conditions that had existed in their own parish in 1960. A suburban parish of about 450 active families, the weekly income averaged $1400.00 with expenses about $2100.00. They recounted how - on the first Sunday after tithing was adopted - contributions increased by $400.00 and two months later were averaging an amazing $2100.00 a week!
The speakers explained that while a tithe means 10 percent the practice has been updated to suggest giving 5 percent to one's parish church and 5 percent to other personal charities, such as parochial school tuition, care of elderly parents, the Heart Fund, or the Cancer Society.
The men who spoke in Franklin Lakes that Sunday and the following week were there because they so strongly believed in the justice of tithing. They had not always felt that way.
Reservations and Objections
Gerard Porter spoke candidly of his initial objections. "I just didn't believe it was in the Bible as they said it was. I decided to check for myself. It's funny," he said, "but I had never really read the Bible and that got me started. I not only found the quotations I was looking for, but I also learned something about the Gospels I'd heard all my life and had never bothered to study before."
He and his wife made the commitment and, like so many others, found their spiritual life improving. "But to say that there are never again any problems would be untrue," he told the audience. "After three years of tithing, I lost my job. My wife and I decided that, since we had acquired a kind of serenity through God's plan, we would tithe the first 5 percent of our unemployment check!"
When the men finished speaking at Most Blessed Sacrament that wintry Sunday in 1977, a few people in the congregation sat stolidly waiting for the request to sign a pledge or make a promise of some sort. They were soon assured by Rev. Joseph Doyle, their pastor, that this was not to be. He explained that tithing is private, a commitment between the giver and God. "You are not giving to me, your pastor"' he said, "nor are you giving to a group of buildings. You are giving to God." He added that, as a tithing parish, they would have only one collection on Sunday except when a second was required by the diocese.
And then he repeated, "It's a private commitment; it's between you and God!"
It appears there were many commitments made that week in Franklin Lakes. On that first Sunday, the guests were speaking in a gymnasium. The parish was 15 years old and still had no church. The weekly income averaged $3000.00 and expenses were almost double that amount. There was a debt of $700,000.00 and the parish faced a cash shortfall of $50,000.00 despite repeated fund-raising efforts.
Two weeks later, Sunday collections had increased 50 percent and within a year they had doubled. (They currently average $13,000.00 per week.) Perhaps most important was the parish spirit. After little more than three years of tithing, a new church was built. The dedication of that church, debt-free and paid for by pledges, was a highly emotional family affair.
It was late in 1978, when then-pastor Reverend Thomas Davis of Ascension in New Milford, NJ called his friend, Father Carl Hinrichsen, the new pastor in Franklin Lakes. Knowing of the steady improvement in the financial situation there, Father Davis wanted to know how it had been accomplished. Father Carl (now Monsignor) shared the facts, Father Davis called Paul Forbes and a meeting was arranged. In January 1979 the four men from Wayne spoke in the New Milford parish with Perry Eustick replacing Jim Holland who had moved from the area. After the presentations, Ascension's collections increased more than 100 percent!
The tithing program was informally launched although no one realized it yet.
The First 120 Parishes
The telephone calls came erratically at first and some pastors seemed a bit tentative. Msgr. Denis Hayes, pastor of St. Cecilia's in Rockaway, NJ saw Gerry McKenna often and mentioned his concerns about parish finances. Gerry related what he'd seen happen in the other parishes and Msgr. Hayes became Tithing pastor number four. Then the pastors of St. Joseph's in Bogota, St. George's and Our Lady of Pompeii in Paterson asked the men to speak and all experienced the same edifying and somewhat amazing results. The story of the success of tithing in Franklin Lakes spread slowly at first, but within three years the men were invited to tell their story in 20 other churches in their own Paterson Diocese and the neighboring Archdiocese of Newark. The results were uniformly dramatic. Soon the speakers couldn't handle all of the requests, and others were asked to attest to the justice and beauty of tithing.
Before long it was evident that someone would have to organize and oversee the details involved in setting dates and assigning people to speak about their experiences as tithers. Gerry McKenna agreed to take on the job, and he devised a system for dealing with the numerous facets of the growing program; soon he was out several nights a week visiting pastors and meeting with parish councils, and it became necessary to recruit more speakers.
McKenna was the tireless administrator of the group until his death in 1983 when that time-consuming job was taken over by witnesses John Meneghello and Sam Calella, both from the Wayne parish. The original members then proposed that the group be named after Gerry McKenna who had guided the program through its early years and the first critical 140 parishes!
Requests for the program were coming in frequently now and John Hannigan, who'd begun speaking in 1980 and was also from Immaculate Heart of Mary, became coordinator for the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Center. He made presentations to more than 60 parish councils as he and Forbes went in different directions several nights each week.
In September of 1986, Paul Forbes took on the job of running the rapidly-growing ministry and did so tirelessly until June 2011. He went on to his eternal reward in January of 2013.