“In some ways our parish is very archaic,” Fr. Jajoie told CNA.
He dreams of someday hiring a maintenance manager.
“I have a 100 year-old church without a maintenance guy,” he noted.
Though it is located in Denver’s gentrifying, “hipster” neighborhood of RiNo (River North), Lajoie said Sacred Heart is a small, poor parish with no online donation portal and has been “limping along” through the pandemic.
When Lajoie applied for the loans, the priest had no grand visions for what he would do with the money.
The needs of the parish are pretty “bare bones,” and Lajoie said he used the loan to keep paying the salaries of his employees - a secretary, a bookkeeper, and a director of religious education - whose incomes help support their families.
Masses are back at the parish now, but at a lower capacity to accommodate social distancing.
“Right now, because of the reduced Mass schedule that we have, we're just under about 50% of our normal parish income. So we're limping along, but it could be a lot worse,” Lajoie said.
Fr. Lajoie said by applying for the federal loan, he was not trying to pad his bottom line. He was simply trying to keep his employees, well, employed.
“I wanted to do my best to support these employees, and I would have done it even without the loan, even to the detriment of the parish, because I feel at least we showed them some gratitude” for their work, Lajoie said. “Because being here as a pastor for a year and dealing with the shutdown, I don’t know what I would do (without them). They're definitely quite essential to the needs of this parish.”
Lajoie said he hoped people understand that parishes are small businesses with employees who pay taxes and need to keep their jobs, and that they are not part of huge corporations.
“Parishes have employees, who are working, who need jobs. As far as my parish is concerned, we are using this money to help some people who are part of families. We are using this money the same way that a for-profit business is using money, which also helps their bottom line. As far as I'm concerned, what we're doing...it's to benefit working people, who themselves pay taxes,” he said. “We’re using this to help people the same way that a for-profit helps their employees,” he said.
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“I think that more parishes can be trusted to actually care about people in all of this, than some companies out there who are willing to...cut jobs, because they're not making a profit anymore. I mean, the church will still exist if they're not making a profit. If the church isn't making a profit at a certain point, the buildings themselves will have to close because they can’t keep the lights on.”
The parish of Christ the King in Oklahoma City is more than three times the size of Sacred Heart. The parish has 1,800 families, and a school that educates 520 children. Between full-time and part-time employees, Fr. Rick Stansberry said the parish and school employ 78 people.
When the pandemic shut down Masses at the parish, Stansberry said one of the members of his finance committee encouraged him to apply for the PPP loan so that the parish wouldn’t have to fire anyone.
“Once everything was shut down, our collection dropped pretty quick, since people weren't coming to church,” Stansberry told CNA.
“In our parish, a lot of people are tied into the oil and gas industry, and lots of people were losing jobs. And so all of a sudden they found themselves without jobs, having to feed their families. Some were not able to pay tuition. Obviously they weren't able to tithe to the church,” he said.
“I didn't want to have to lay people off and contribute to the problem. And some of our part-time (employees) are more vulnerable in the sense that they really depended on the jobs that they had to eat. I didn't want to lay people off,” Stansberry said.
The part-time employees “were the ones that were the most grateful that we got the loan.”