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The Region

Gift to Church Has 7 Zeroes

May 05, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

The pastor of a Catholic church in Irvine surprised worshipers at Sunday Masses with news of a $10-million gift from an anonymous donor and said the church will share $1 million with Orange County's poorest parishes.

The donation to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church comes a month after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange said it would be forced to cut 20% from its budget after massive financial losses in the last two years.

Members of St. Elizabeth chatted as much about the identity of the mystery donor as what the gift will mean to the church's financial future, according to those who attended the services.

"We are elated," said Annamarie Nagy, president of the church's pastoral council. She has been a church member since it was founded in 1976 and services were held in the multipurpose room of University High School. Nagy said that while she didn't know the church's exact annual budget, it is much less than the donation.

"For this gift, we are truly grateful to God," Pastor Thomas Pado said.

Pado said in a news release that church officials have been studying parish needs and planning for the church's financial future. No immediate plans have been made for the money -- other than the $1-million contribution to the diocese to serve the neediest parishes.

Nagy said a number of churches in the diocese are running deficits. She said St. Elizabeth owns its building and can meet costs but has little in reserve.

Last year, the Diocese of Orange twice imposed 5% cuts it said were necessary because of stock market losses and rising insurance costs. The diocese also has spent $3.6 million to resolve lawsuits over sexual abuse by priests. In April, diocesan officials said they had frozen 12 administrative positions and planned to cut $2 million from the 2003-04 fiscal year budget.

Diocesan officials could not be reached for comment.

Leia Smith, a member of Catholic Worker, an organization the serves the poor and homeless, said she hopes the diocese will use the money to "look at who's most in need, the ones that are struggling to keep their heads at water level."

At St. Elizabeth, members spoke of possible uses for the money -- the kitchen and some bathrooms could use remodeling -- but for the most part, they took pride in the church's plans to share its unexpected gift.

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