On July 29, 1853, the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, was formally created by papal brief under the leadership of the first bishop, Louis de Goësbriand.  At this time there were 10 churches and approximately 20,000 Catholics being served by five priests.

The Diocese was very much a missionary Diocese with limited resources and a small congregation of Catholics sprinkled throughout the vast state.  The terrain was challenging, and the mostly Protestant state did not welcome Catholicism.

Bishop de Goësbriand spent most of his quarter-of-a million-dollar inheritance to travel throughout the state to spread the Good News and build churches, schools and homes for the most vulnerable. The fruits of his labor paid off. By 1891, the number of Catholics more than doubled to 48,000 with 78 churches. In addition, he helped found eight academies and 16 parochial schools in the Diocese with seven congregations of women religious to staff them.

By the time he died in 1899, he had spent his entire fortune; he had only $2.12 to his name and a few old suits, noted Father Lance Harlow, rector of St. Joseph Cathedral who wrote a biography of the bishop in 2001.

“Bishop de Goësbriand, even though he was raised in a well-respected and well-to-do household, lived in austere simplicity,” said Kathleen Messier, assistant diocesan archivist. “In several biographical accounts of Burlington’s founding bishop, his Christ-like love of the poor has often been noted.”

Today we find the Diocese of Burlington is again missionary territory, similar to what Bishop de Goësbriand faced but with new challenges: Covid-19, declining population and a generation of young people disinterested in joining any type of formal religion.

We must face these challenges with the same fortitude and faith as our first leader, Bishop de Goësbriand, and create new ways to engage young people and lay leaders, while keeping our faith community connected during the pandemic and continuing to support the most vulnerable among us.

When the pandemic closed our churches, we increased our communication by live-streaming almost 200 faith engagement activities including weekly and Sunday Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, daily rosary, daily scripture reflections and many other faith engagement opportunities. We continued to provide emergency aid to families — many impacted by Covid-19 — moved our Catholic education online and guided our parishes to safely open for the public celebration of the Mass when the stay-home-order was lifted.

All of these ministries are supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

On July 29, we will celebrate our first Founder’s Day of Giving to encourage gifts to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal and support the mission of our Diocese. We have received an anonymous matching gift that will match any gift made up to $18,000. If you have not yet made a gift to the appeal or would like to make an additional gift online, visit vermontcatholic.org/donate/bishops-annual-appeal/give-online or text to give: Giving to 52236.

The matching gift will match all donations received during the week of July 26-Aug. 2 in order to include mailed gifts. Gifts can be mailed to: Bishop’s Annual Appeal, Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, P.O. Box 1358, Williston, VT 05495.