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Conference teaches dioceses to become better financial stewards

.- Participants from 21 dioceses in the United States and four countries gathered in Colorado Springs for a conference to discuss how strong financial management practices enable parishes to “devote more time to the missions that originally inspired their vocations.”

The conference, entitled, “Management of the Church’s Temporal Affairs,” which took place at the Broadmoor Hotel August 4-6, discussed ways that dioceses across the country and around the world can become better stewards of their resources.

Founder of O’Meara, Ferguson, Whelan, and Conway and organizer of the conference, Pat O’Meara, explained to CNA that the firm works with dioceses across the country and across the boarders to advise them of the best use of their temporal resources as they further their mission.

The mission of the business, which O’Meara states, “is striving to be the trusted advisor to the Church,” demonstrates that they are dedicated to helping their clients “more easily manage the growing financial complexity of their institutions, thereby enabling them to devote more time to the missions that originally inspired their vocations.” 

Daniel Conway, president and CEO of the Mission Advancement Services explained that many times, dealing with administrative tasks is seen as burdensome by those working in the Church.  However, we “need to appreciate how management practices can sustain the mission of the Church.  We need a change in attitude and need to appreciate the theology of stewardship.”

This is essential “as a means to proclaim the kingdom of God and the mission of the Church,” Conway said.

Pat O’Meara explained that if a diocese needs assistance in fundraising, the firm doesn’t just show “how to fundraise, but once you fundraise, how to use it.” One example of a problem that O’Meara sees frequently occurs when a diocese holds small fundraisers to construct a new church.  Since they can’t raise enough money to build one that fits their needs, they build a smaller church.  Once the church is completed, they hold another fundraiser to raise money to build onto the initial construction, he said.

The process continues and, O’Meara noted, it is “inefficient and delays the needs of the Church.” 

Instead, O’Meara said he is teaching dioceses to become “more sophisticated” and to “become better managers of their resources.”

In another example given by O’Meara, by restructuring one client’s assets, the diocese was able to free up $65 million in cash flow for missions over a 20 year period.  Another client, the Diocese of Orlando has built eight parishes in the last three years.  In Austin and Oakland, the bishops are focusing on recruiting their skilled parishioners.  The bishops realize that there is true talent in the pews and want to put it to good use for the Church.

At the conference, 21 dioceses from the U.S., along with Church members from Honduras, Argentina, and Mexico were invited to discuss how members of their dioceses can collaborate regarding the finances of the Church.  Often, O’Meara explained, “bishops get together, the CFOs get together, directors get together, vicar generals get together,” etc., however they “never all come together at one time to manage their resources.”

In the discussions, O’Meara encouraged the benefits of a collaborative effort “to find a way to become a better steward of the resources.”  Through this, we can answer “how do we create a plan to thrive and grow?”

Conway described the conference, which included presentations on leadership, effective stewardship, schools, management, planning, and investment, in a single word, “awesome.”  He related that in his 30 years of experience, “this is the first time I have been involved in a gathering that crosses borders internationally,” while gathering the different groups “of bright, committed passionate vicar generals, bishops, diocesan directors, CFOs, who are all looking at the temporal affairs of the Church in terms of its mission.”

Msgr. Jorge Palencia Ramirez de Arellano, from Mexico City was sent to the conference by Cardinal Norberto Rivera for assistance in reorganizing the archdiocesan financial system and also for advice on how to fundraise money for several projects in Mexico City - one being the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  He explained that with the help of O’Meara Ferguson, they have begun building the “Plaza Mariana,” as an addition to the side of the basilica. 

The “Plaza Mariana,” due to be completed in 2010 for the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence, will be an evangelization center for the 30 million pilgrims who visit the shrine every year.  The center will consist of classrooms, auditoriums, and a museum. 

Msgr. Palencia told CNA that he appreciated working with O’Meara Ferguson, not only because he has been pleased with their results, but also because they embrace a “Catholic spirit” that was evident in the conference.

Alejandra Boggione, project manager for the lay movement, FASTA in Buenos Aires Argentina was sent to the conference to learn more about the firm and their financial services.  The movement is looking to build new Catholic schools, move others to a new location and build new university buildings.

Thomas Flood, Executive Director of Development and Stewardship, and Marion Boteju, the Associate Director of Parish Stewardship, both from the Diocese of Brooklyn also attended the conference.  In the past, they had worked with Conway who “opened their minds up to capital markets and schools.”

Boteju described the conference as the “nuts and bolts of finance” combined with a spiritual component.  The firm and the conference have “given the Church the opportunity to advance its mission through stewardship,” stated Boteju. 

Flood added, “Usually from a conference, there are one or two things that you take away.  From this conference, we have a suitcase full of takeaways.  It has recharged us to go back and do things to advance the mission of the Church in Brooklyn.”


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