Diocesan Pastoral Council contemplates the business side of parish life

By Connie Berry
SUN editor

The latest gathering of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) took place on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1. The DPC took the feast day to heart with a packed agenda which featured a training session for parish trustees, a presentation about the Increased Offering Program for parishes, an introduction and short presentation by the diocese’s new chief operating officer, John Barsanti, an update on parish assessments from Msgr. Robert Yeazel, and finally questions and answers with Bishop Robert Cunningham. The small discussion groups wrestled with the topic of whether or not to recommend to the bishop the establishment of a central office for evangelization within the diocese.

The meeting began in the morning with prayer led by musician Larry Hagen from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Utica. Hagen employed one of his original songs, “Arise and Evangelize,” to begin the prayer portion of the meeting.

Kit Parker, diocesan director of the Office of Stewardship & Development, was joined by Ted Sarenski from St. Ann’s Church in Manlius. The two talked about the Increased Offering Program available through Parker’s office. Parker began on a historical note quoting from the book about the history of the Syracuse Diocese, Faith and Friendship, which documents the diocese from 1886 to 1986. He reminded the DPC that the founding of the first church, Historic Old St. John’s in Utica, was possible because of the donations of the faithful, in particular John and Nicholas Devereux whose philanthropy spread to western New York with the establishment of St. Bonaventure University and major contributions to establish the American College in Rome.

Sarenski spoke about his parish’s experience with the Increased Offering Program. He is a trustee and member of the finance council at St. Ann’s where the late pastor Father Kevin Hannon planned to expand many parish programs and needed the financial support of the parishioners to accomplish his goals. “We were looking towards the future,” Sarenski said. “Father Kevin wanted to start programs that would reach out into our community.”

Also, Sarenski explained that St. Ann’s works with two other parishes knowing that the future may mean that priests could share the duties between Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville, St. James in Cazenovia and St. Ann’s. The goal of increasing parish giving was not a shoe-in with the parish council, Sarenski added.

“We had to convince them that this was something that had to happen,” he said. “No one likes to ask people for money.”

The parish eventually agreed to an outside vendor to help implement a parish giving program. The vendor only made money if its work produced results.

“The hardest folks to raise money from are those who have the money,” Sarenski said. “But people will give if they understand why, where and how.”

The pastor and the people of the parish talked about the program which made the process more personal. The result was an almost 30 percent increase in the parish collections. The parish facilitates giving by making credit card use available.

Parker answered some questions concerning some DPC members. They wanted to know how an increased offering program could help parishes who are in the process of merging or linking. He suggested that all the parishioners have the needs of the parish in common, whether it is a new parish or one that is merging into another. “Parishes have difficulties,” Sarenski said. “They have differences but they need to have community events to help them look at the way it is. They may decide, ‘Let’s become a community before we help raise funds.’”

Parker also gave a general update stating that the 2009 HOPE Appeal raised $4,244,035 with a parish sharing of $265,000. This coming Sunday, May 16, is HOPE Appeal Sunday.

Doreen Simmons, part of the legal counsel for the diocese, made a presentation to the parish trustees while the rest of the DPC members met in small groups to discuss the best way for the diocese to promote an evangelization program.

Simmons stated that religious corporate law has not changed in “the last 60 years.”  She stressed how important the parish trustees are to the functioning of the parish. They are to assist with the preparation of the annual parish budget, the annual parish and diocesan financial reports, preparation of corporate resolutions, assure that the diocesan Child and Youth Protection Policy is enforced, maintain records of all parish banking, real property, donations, endowments, finances, insurances, inventories, special collections and tax exemptions.

The practice of the DPC is to report the results of the small group sessions at the next  meeting. The previous meeting posed the question, “As a consultative body what suggestions can the DPC offer to Bishop Cunningham that would help initiate comprehensive evangelization processes in our parishes?” The outcome was that a Diocesan Office of Evangelization supported by the diocese and supportive of parishes could be established. A “diocesan toolbox” of resources was another suggestion as was a process to share and publicize evangelization practices. The DPC also suggested a diocesan-wide program such as Proud to be Catholic, Welcome Home or Go and Make Disciples.

A special technology team was proposed using state of the art technology to promote a positive Catholic image. Web sites for youth employing social networking was also recommended. Enhancing faith formation opportunities for adults and young people was another option.

After the group discussions, DPC members were introduced to John Barsanti, the chief operating officer of the diocese. Barsanti arrived in March and spoke about his desire to bring a sound business perspective to the diocese. He is a member of Holy Family Parish in Fairmount and a graduate of Christian Brothers Academy and Niagara University.

“The last time I was in this building [Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School] was when we played Bishop Grimes in basketball — we were beaten. My wife said she hopes I’ll do better this time,” Barsanti joked.

His experience in the business sector is extensive and meant moving his family all over the world. Barsanti said he has moved home now and considers his employment with the diocese a “giving back” opportunity. He lost no time telling the DPC that all members of the diocese need to cooperate.

“We need to work together to make the diocese stronger,” Barsanti said. “We are here to serve you and in some cases there is a lack of trust and a lack of communication. The bishop says he wants total transparency and that is what we are working towards.”

He said his office will begin to introduce best practices through central administration, parishes and schools.

“The first thing I noticed is how far behind the diocese is,” Barsanti said. “You have 3,000 employees and you’re still doing benefits manually. We’re going to use HR Works to implement a web-based benefits system and that’s going to save a couple hundred thousand dollars without changing the benefits.”

Barsanti said that all bookkeeping will be standardized using the QuickBooks program and if a parish needs new computers or equipment to assist them in some of the new programs, he encourages them to look to the diocese for help. He also told the DPC that it is nearly June 2010 and only a third of the parishes in the diocese have turned in their June 2009 financial statements. He said the finance councils of parishes should be meeting monthly or at least quarterly to allow for fiscal responsibility. “We need to have strong and active finance councils with the right people in the right positions,” Barsanti told them. “We need to make sure the right internal controls are in place with strong oversight
and management.”

Barsanti told the DPC that he is available to help any parish seeking assistance. “We’re more than willing to come out and help whenever we can,” Barsanti said. “If you have a question, let me know.” His email is jbarsanti@syrdio.org and he can be contacted at the chancery, (315) 422-7203.

“We need to rebuild that trust between the diocese and the parish,” he told them. “We need to get the diocese working effectively.”

Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel, vicar general of the diocese and pastor of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, spoke about parish assessments. There was a substantial amount of parish assessments unpaid this past fall, he said, but progress has been made in getting parishes to pay their assessments.

“The pastor and the trustees are responsible by corporate law to make sure the parish finances are in order,” Msgr. Yeazel said.

He went over the parish assessments: protected self insurance, clerical fund (priests pension and disability), health insurance for employees, school subsidy for diocesan Catholic schools, pension (for lay employees), HOPE Appeal (for the mission of the church), seminary (for education of diocesan seminarians), cathedraticum (for works of the bishop) and The Catholic Sun.

“There is still approximately $3,300,000 owed on the assessments,” Msgr. Yeazel told the DPC and trustees at the meeting.

The chief operating officer, the finance office of the diocese, the development office and Msgr. Yeazel are available to assist with bookkeeping procedures, technology, best practices in fund raising and the parish Increased Offering Program. Non-payment of health insurance and pension plans for employees is illegal, Msgr. Yeazel reminded DPC members. He emphasized the availability of diocesan staff to help parishes.

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