The business of being a parish focus of conference — Archdiocese holds first-ever event around parish operations, management

By Patrick Butler | Contributor
Sunday, June 5, 2011

The business of the church “isn’t just about spread sheets, asset management or buildings. It’s about our ministry,” archdiocesan Chancellor Jimmy Lago reminded some 250 pastors, parish business managers and finance committee chairs at a May 25-26 Parish Management Conference at the Chicago Marriott in Oak Brook.

But that doesn’t mean those responsible for the nuts-and-bolts side of the church shouldn’t always be trying to be the best possible stewards in a time of growing needs and diminishing funds, said Parish Operations Director Taffi Iwanicki.

What Iwanicki called the archdiocese’s first-ever seminar of its kind, the two-day search for “Creative Solutions in Extraordinary Times” featured 26 workshops on everything from fundraising and managing parish records in the new millennium to how to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote parish activities.

“That’s creative solutions, not creative accounting,” said Kevin Marzalik, the archdiocese’s finance director told attendees.

In one session, attorneys Maureen Murphy, Hortensia Carreira and Michael Baird offered tips on bingo licenses and how to deal with parents who are behind in their child’s parochial school tuition. They stressed the importance of having all parish employees fill out time sheets.

In another session, Father Dominic Grassi, pastor of St. Gertrude, 6200 N. Glenwood, and author of “Living the Faith” and the “Bumping Into God” series suggested often overlooked ways to find and use volunteer talent.

And Sister of St. Joseph Anne Bryan Smollin offered some comic relief with practical tips on “Dealing With Stress Before It Deals With You.” Humor is indeed the best medicine, she said, citing studies showing that the health benefits of 10 seconds of laughter are equivalent to three minutes of rowing.

Relationships important

Cardinal George addressed attendees and said that smooth business operations are all part of the overall network of relationships that make up the church at all its levels.

“The church is a center of relationships, a community. When you get the relationships right, everything else will follow,” the cardinal said. “But when you lose track of the relationships, get lost in some particular activity, then nothing will work, even if you succeed in a particular area.

“If we keep those relationships firmly in mind, the Lord will be pleased with you, I shall be very pleased with you, and you will be very pleased with yourselves,” the cardinal joked.

Learning on the job

Reflecting upon the conference, James Dion, who became business manager at St. John Bosco Parish, 2250 N. McVicker, after his engineering job fizzled out eight years ago, said we are all put where we are supposed to be.

“My brother was an administrator there [at St. John Bosco] and they needed someone quick,” said Dion, who got his on-the-job training dealing with seemingly never ending building maintenance problems.

“It was a very poor parish. They had to close the school. Things are better now. All the collapsed sewer lines and leaky roofs have been fixed with money from renting out the old school building for a charter school,” he said.

Still, “It’s been a struggle even for more affluent parishes to make ends meet and keep schools open when we don’t have nuns working for $10 a month,” said Nancy Schweider, operations director at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview.

Schweider says she’s seen more and more pastors putting parish operations on a businesslike basis during the 27 years she’s worked at about 20 different parishes.

Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, who heads Vicariate II covering the city’s North Side and northern suburbs, said he got a taste of what was to come as a young priest at Bridgeport’s St. John Fisher Parish.

The late Msgr. Francis McElliott “was a wonderful pastor, yet very responsible in how the parish was run,” Kane said, describing those years as the beginning of the “transformation that’s taking place in the church today.”