Leaders describe diocesan role in parish support
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Diocesan leaders believe that a strong spirit of stewardship - already evident at the parish level - can be translated into an even stronger partnership between parishes and the diocese to provide essential services to people.
By reconnecting the annual "Together We Can" diocesan appeal next spring with successful parish-based annual appeals, the existing partnership between parish and diocese in the mission of the entire church will become more evident to more donors, according to Vicar General Father Patrick Rush, Finance Officer Dave Malanowski, and Stewardship and Development Director Tom Minges.
The three diocesan leaders met Dec. 16 to express their confidence in the newly revamped diocesan appeal and in the people of the diocese to respond to it.
Strong stewardship among the faithful is apparent when direct giving to parishes is examined, Malanowski said.
Citing a recent national study of 118 dioceses, Malanowski said that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph ranked in the top eight in the amount of money given to parishes by each donor. The diocese also ranked "in the middle" in terms of gifts per donor to the annual diocesan appeal, he said.
Minges also noted that since 1983, parishioners here have boosted parish offertory collection income by some 66 percent. At the same time, however, the annual diocesan appeal has remained virtually static.
Father Rush said the enthusiasm for giving at the parish level underscores the satisfaction parishioners have with the services provided by the partnership of diocese and parish at the parish level.
He noted that many parishioners may not realize that those services are being provided either through direct diocesan funding or through other diocesan-based resources. These include training and financial support for parish ministers and the logistical support provided by diocesan offices, such as the Diocesan School Office's support of all parochial schools.
"We have provided resources to enable parishes to provide services, including training, money for their social services, networking and support for parish leadership," Father Rush said. "That isn't always seen by the people in the pews."
Minges said that pastors are excited about the opportunity that the new "Together We Can" appeal will give them next spring to tell the story of the partnership between parish and diocese, Minges said.
In an evaluation of the annual diocesan appeal last spring, a special task force discovered that nearly two-thirds of pastors and pastoral administrators urged that the diocesan appeal be rejoined with parish stewardship appeals that occur in the spring.
"They named as their biggest issue this lack of a sense of connectedness to the diocese" among parishioners, Minges said. "So many pastors have said there is this disconnect, and they feel bad about that. They want to reconnect to the diocese."
Father Rush said it is important for parishioners to realize that "Together We Can" not only provides the means for larger, wealthier parishes to help provide essential ministries to smaller, less wealthy parishes, but it also helps provide services to larger parishes as well.
"I don't know if people are aware of the imbalance (of wealth) in the system and how important it is for parishes who are gifted to share with parishes who are not so gifted," he said. "At the same time, services offered to youth and the poor through various diocesan offices also provide resources to some of the larger parishes as well. Everyone is benefitting from that (Together We Can) money."
Minges said that is a story that begs to be told.
"We need to communicate with people more effectively both by mail and in person," he said. "The services we provide need to be that story."
Malanowski said that the money directed to Catholic education is an example of how "Together We Can" benefits a broad section of the diocese. The diocese annually pays $800,000 into the Central City School Fund, which provides scholarships and direct operating support to seven Catholic elementary schools within the Kansas City Public School District. The diocese also provides its four high schools with a total of $678,000 of financial support. Without that support, fewer families would be able to afford Catholic high school tuition.
In addition, money given to "Together We Can" also helps fund college campus ministry that benefits all students at state universities in the diocese, parish-based food and utility assistance to the poor, and direct grants to smaller parishes through the diocesan parish-based ministry grant program, Father Rush said.
The total of diocesan support to all those programs exceeds the $1.5 million collected from the Together We Can appeal in 2001, Malanowski pointed out. As the annual appeal grows, the ability will also grow for the diocese and parishes working together to meet even more needs, he said.
Father Rush said that a healthier annual appeal would permit Catholic Charities to accelerate its expansion of services into more parishes to serve more people. Catholic Charities now receives $300,000 in direct diocesan financial support.
"They have 7 percent administrative costs," Father Rush said. "You are not going to find a better bargain than that."
Father Rush said that charitable fund-raising is difficult in tough economic times. But at the same time, demand for services is growing.
"The needs in this economy are increasingly obvious," Father Rush said.
Malanowski expressed confidence that as more people connect their gift to the annual diocesan appeal with the mission of the broader church, more will respond out of gratitude for the gifts they have received.
"Where I have seen this take hold is in those parishes where pastors, associate pastors and parish leaders can link giftedness and gratitude to the mission of the church," he said. "I think it is really taking hold here. It is successful where people are linking some of the basic tenets of stewardship to the mission of the church."