Lumen Christi Legacy Society: helping the Church fulfill God’s plan for the future

Father Michael Boehling, vicar general, talks to Betty and Nick Vacca, two members of the Lumen Christi Legacy Society at Prince of Peace, Chesapeake, during a Mass and luncheon at the Pastoral Center, Richmond, Oct. 17, 2023. (Photo/Jay Paul)

Steve and Joann Ervin know that, long after they have left this earth, their memories will live on to help others in their financial gift to their parish, Prince of Peace, Chesapeake. They joined the diocese’s Lumen Christi Legacy Society to ensure that the parish that means so much to them is financially secure in the future.

“It’s like a loving family,” Joann said. She and Steve have belonged to Prince of Peace for about 38 years, and raised both their sons in the church.

“We want to give back to the church and to people who really need it,” Steve said.

The legacy society is also a way to honor their late son, Erik, who passed away 10 years ago at age 34. Part of his own assets were willed to his parents, who then made a bequest to the church in his memory. “We are giving for him also,” Joann said. “He had a very big heart.”

Judy Florance, member of Lumen Christi Legacy Society at Prince of Peace, Chesapeake, after receiving Holy Communion at a special Mass recognizing legacy society members at the Pastoral Center, Richmond, Oct. 17, 2023. (Photo/Jay Paul)

‘Where your heart is’

Joining the Lumen Christi (“Light of Christ”) Legacy Society is a way for Catholics across the diocese to leave something to the Catholic Community Foundation or a Catholic entity of the Diocese of Richmond, most often their parishes, upon their deaths. It’s a way to ensure the financial stability and survival of the parishes that have become like families to so many. Some people make general bequests to their parishes; some specify ministries that are important to them. Members may be publicly recognized or may request anonymity.

Maggie Keenan, director of Planned Giving for the diocese, led the development and launching of the program in fiscal year 2017-2018. “I had two goals: to educate, inform and create awareness of the importance of having an updated will, and to urge people to consider naming their parishes in their wills.”

People love their parishes, she said. “Their parish is their second family, and has been there in good times and in sorrow and in hardship.”

At this writing, there are 358 individuals/couples in the legacy society. All information is confidential.

Some members have designated specific ministries, such as scholarships for twinned parishes and schools in Haiti, Keenan noted.

She said the most common bequests are a certain percentage of residual estates, often around 10 to 20%. Some people have named their parishes as beneficiaries of their life insurance policies, she explained, and some have bequeathed part of their retirement accounts.

“A legacy gift is putting your money where your heart is,” Keenan said. “It makes a statement about the importance of faith in your life.”

Her other message is: “Get your wills done.” The diocese has a partnership with, a website that offers a free, legal, simple and secure way to create a will in about half an hour. Keenan said that since it became available in January 2022, more than 100 Catholics in the diocese have used it, including priests.

“It is open to anyone in our diocese to create a will, whether they choose to participate in the legacy society or not,” she explained. She sees only legacy gifts and no other information, she added.

“This is important, because when you die without a will, your loved ones are thrown in the deep end while mourning and having to figure things out,” Keenan said. “This is an act of love.”

Sharon Lynch, Lumen Christi Legacy Society member at Prince of Peace, Chesapeake, during the sign of peace at a Mass recognizing legacy society members at the Pastoral Center, Oct. 17, 2023. (Photo/Jay Paul)

All gifts make a difference

Nick Vacca is the chair of the Lumen Christi Legacy Society at Prince of Peace. As parishioners for more than 20 years, he and his wife, Betty, raised their family in the parish and are now helping their grandchildren grow in their faith there.

“Many of us have had our children baptized here, and we’ve been married here and received other sacraments,” Vacca said. “This is what the Church is all about and what makes it strong. And part of that is being strong financially, so it survives.”

He added that one benefit of the legacy society is that it is open to everyone, regardless of income.

“What makes it nice for the average Joe is that this gives me the opportunity to give financially to the Church in the future more than I can now,” he said.

A ministry close to his own heart is the parish’s food pantry, which brings out generous donations and helpers. “I’m surrounded with some of the most God-loving Christian volunteers, who give graciously of their time and act as the light of Christ,” said Vacca, who serves as director. “You want things like the food pantry to continue; you want to share those good values with young people.”

He has known many kind parishioners at Prince of Peace, he said. “This is a way to keep all that love going.”

Lumen Christi Legacy Society committee member Al DeGuzman added, “It gives people a sense of ownership. They remember that the folks before us helped build the Church and now we can, too. We are part of the Church.”

Supporting future generations

Sacred Heart, Danville, has an aging demographic, and parishioners are thinking about those who will come after them, explained Mary Foley, director of administration and finance.

“Our members like the idea that their money will perpetually support the parish, as the next generation may not be as affluent,” she said. “The people who are generous now are ensuring the financial future of the church, and are leaving it better for people they will never even know.”

The legacy society has become popular, mostly by word of mouth, she said. “People want to be part of this and it’s so easy to do,” Foley said.

Many parishioners appreciate that small amounts are welcome, she said. “It’s not just elite millionaires who are doing this; we have teachers, blue-collar workers, business owners – everyone can participate,” she explained. “It’s a way of saying: ‘This church means something to me.’”

Helena Gue is one of those members. “This goes to the life of our church,” said Gue, who has attended Sacred Heart for more than two decades. Having no children, she said, “You get close to people after 20 years and it makes me happy to do this.”

Sowers, not harvesters

At St. Bede, Williamsburg, many parishioners are moved by the idea of giving their “last best gift,” said Sam Samorian, development director.

“If we think biblically, there are so many references to tithing,” he said. “And there’s also the story of the one healed leper out of ten who turned back to thank Jesus.”

He explained that because Williamsburg is a popular retirement area, many St. Bede parishioners are retirees who may not have grown up there or have family locally. Even so, he said, they have a strong interest in ensuring the future of youth faith formation for children they will never know, as well as other ministries such as helping the local poor.

“We’re planting the seeds; we’re the sowers, not the harvesters,” he said.

Gail and John Miller, Lumen Christi Legacy Society members at St. Bede, Williamsburg. (Photo submitted)

John and Gail Miller joined St. Bede when they retired to Williamsburg in 2008 after their military careers. When making estate plans, they wanted to do something for St. Bede. “These parishioners are family,” said Gail. “Our hearts are at St. Bede’s and with our Catholic faith.”

Gail noted that after she had emergency surgery in 2022, she was stunned by the number of people who greeted her when she returned to church. “So many people said, ‘We’ve been praying for you,’ and I didn’t even know some of them – but I don’t think of them as strangers,” Gail recalled.

“We feel so connected to the parish and we have such good friendships there,” said John. “We’ve had a blessed life and we need to share our blessings.” He and Gail do not have children.

One of their “heartfelt” ministries is Williamsburg’s House of Mercy, founded by St. Bede parish, which offers a food pantry as well as help with transportation, rent and utilities to those in need. They want to help ensure the continuity of that ministry after they are gone.

“The world right now is in a questionable place,” Gail said. “But I know God has a plan. And by doing this, we can assist Our Lord with accomplishing his plan.”

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