Director of operations position emerges through Renew My Church

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2019

When lightning struck the bell tower at Sacred Heart Church in Winnetka in the early hours of Aug. 25, 2018, it did more than send chunks of concrete crashing to the ground.

The electrical surge knocked out the church’s organ, sound system and fire alarm board and traveled underground to take out the elevator in the parish center as well.

The best part for pastor Father Steven Lanza? He didn’t have to deal with any of it.

That job fell to Michelle Wasielewski, director of operations for Divine Mercy Parish, a parish that was formed as part of the Renew My Church process and has worship sites at Sacred Heart and St. Philip the Apostle Church in Northfield.

“Director of operations” is an emerging role that has been created to help relieve the burden of operational administration that can often take a significant amount of the pastor’s time.

As parishes emerge from the Renew My Church restructuring process, a director of operations allows a pastor the freedom to focus their efforts on the mission and in creating a culture of evangelization. The idea, said Paul Goetz, is that a parish director of operations can take a significant amount of the administrative work off the pastor’s desk, leaving him free to be a shepherd to the people.

Goetz is senior director of operations for Renew My Church.

“A pastor is still going to have to make decisions,” Goetz said, “but the operations director is a member of the pastor’s core staff team and should be presenting him with options and telling him what the tradeoffs are, so he doesn’t have to do all that work himself. The director works with the pastor and any other members of the parish core leadership team to discern and carry forward the vision that achieves parish vitality.”

Directors of operations handle everything from facilities to finances to human resources, he said.

As more new parish structures come out of Renew My Church with multiple worship sites under the leadership of one parish team, their administration will be even more complicated, and earlier surveys of pastors found that they already wanted to spend more time on ministry and less on administration.

“We want to make sure that every parish coming out of Renew My Church has a really strong core team,” Goetz said. “You’re going to not only look at where you are today, but what the parish is going to look like in five years? In 10 years? The operations director helps plan for that.”

Some parishes have had staff — usually with the title of business manager — doing some of the things directors of operations do. Wasielewski, who formerly was the business manager at Sacred Heart, was one of them, although she said the job has expanded with the creation of the new parish.

Other parishes have had business managers whose role doesn’t go much further than keeping books. In those cases, a business manager sometimes serves several parishes.

That model leaves too much administration burden for the pastor to do, especially with today’s challenges of running a parish, Goetz said.

While some parishes need full-time operation directors, many smaller parishes are able to share one, Goetz said. However, he doesn’t foresee any operations director working for more than two parishes.

Goetz said that so far, operations directors have been able to help parishes save enough money to more than cover the cost of their position.

Wasielewski said her job has included bringing the staffs of two parishes together, managing finances and managing repair and construction projects, since both St. Philip and Sacred Heart parishes completed capital campaigns before they became part of the new parish.

After attending an archdiocesan training for directors of operation, Wasielewski said she thinks the people hired for the new position will be better off when it comes to understanding what the job is.

“When I was hired at Sacred Heart in 2010, there was no training to be had,” she said. “Our deacon met me at my car and gave me a tour of the buildings. He gave me all this information and said, ‘Here’s your office, there’s your desk. Have at it.’”

Lanza said he appreciates the work Waslielewski does.

“It’s very freeing for a pastor,” he said. “It’s not that I’m not involved in those decisions. I’m just involved at a different level.”


  • renew my church
  • parishes

Related Articles