‘Paying it forward’ in parish finance

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, June 15, 2014

In one way, the mission of the Accounting Service Center is simple: It provides archdiocesan accounting and bookkeeping assistance to parishes.

In another way, it’s mission is much larger. It is creating workers with accounting skills and experience who, after spending time working at the service center, can go out and work for parishes and understand all of the archdiocesan polices and best practices when it comes to finance, or take their skills and get jobs outside the archdiocese.

Richard Barney, the parish operations accounting manager, said it’s not a defeat when people move on to new positions. It gives them the chance to take on new challenges and responsibilities, and allows the service center to hire and train new workers, keeping the level of enthusiasm high, Barney said.

That doesn’t mean that he wants constant turnover, he said.

“We need people to stay 18 months to two years,” said Barney, who took up his position five years ago. “Because there is a cost to hiring and training people. I always worry about the three-year mark and the five-year mark, when people might start to feel bored or burnt out.”

That’s not true of all people, he said. There are some long-term employees who enjoy and thrive on routine work. They tend to stay for years.

But those who need to be more analytical or creative to be satisfied tend to want new challenges to conquer, he said.

Among them was Joe Wojtowicz, now the business manager at St. John Brebeuf Parish in Niles and St. Thecla Parish, 6725 W. Devon Ave.

Wojtowicz wasn’t a stranger to the world of Catholic finance; he had been controller at Chicagobased Catholic Extension for six years before joining the service center as an accountant. He led a team with two administrators who together worked with about 22 parishes.

The administrators do what amounts to bookkeeping — make sure that the parish books and financial reports are in order and make sure the parishes’ checks don’t bounce.

The accountant does all that for some parishes, oversees the administrators’ work and is also available to the pastors or other parish officials to help plan for the parishes’ financial future, taking into account everything from fundraising to needed capital improvements.

Wojtowicz said that it was initially a bit of a challenge working in so many different parishes, but he enjoyed the work.

“You’re actually learning the systems that are in place in the archdiocese,” he said. “It’s a very good training ground prior to going out in the field. A tour of duty there is really a wise thing.”

It’s also an invaluable resource for pastors, Wojtowicz said.

When he learned that both St. Thecla and St. John Brebeuf were looking for a business manager at the same time, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

The parishes are only a few miles apart. Both are active and busy institutions, and both have parish schools.

Wojtowicz said Barney’s dedication to helping service center staff members move on has helped many people — and several parishes, who now have employees who are intimately familiar with archdiocesan procedures.

“It really is paying it forward,” he said. “It really has worked out great.”