June 9, 2017

Workshop promotes standards for excellence in parishes

Peter Denio, program manager at the Washington-based Catholic Leadership Roundtable, leads a workshop on Catholic Standards for Excellence on May 3 at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis. Catholics from across central and southern Indiana participated in the workshop. (Submitted photo)

Peter Denio, program manager at the Washington-based Catholic Leadership Roundtable, leads a workshop on Catholic Standards for Excellence on May 3 at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis. Catholics from across central and southern Indiana participated in the workshop. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Pat Byrne has worked in public accounting for more than 40 years. During that time, the member of St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County has helped business clients become more efficient in the use and protection of their assets, both tangible and intangible.

Now he’s excited to see this approach to best practices in the business world being applied in ways that conform with Church teaching and canon law to the management of parishes and dioceses, so that they can become more effective in carrying out their mission.

He learned about this when he participated in a two-day workshop on Catholic Standards for Excellence on May 3-4 at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis.

It was sponsored by the archdiocese’s Empowering Pastoral Leadership for Excellence in Parish Leadership and Management project, which is funded by a $1 million grant awarded to the archdiocese in 2016 by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.

“We want to make sure that the people are confident that we are operating ethically, legally and based on our Catholic values and to be transparent about it,” Byrne said.

Michelle Fessel, pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish in Lanesville, echoed Byrne, saying that the standards can assure parishioners that their faith communities are effective in ministry.

“They want to know that we’re good stewards, that the parish is running efficiently and effectively,” she said. “That is something that we can give back to them if we can show them that we are meeting these basic best practices.”

Msgr. William F. Stumpf, archdiocesan administrator, participated in the workshop and sees the value of the standards.

“While the Catholic Church is not a business, we in Church leadership have a responsibility to make the best use of the resources we have been given to further the mission of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Implementing these standards will help our parishes, schools and agencies to operate with greater efficiency and unity.”

The Catholic Standards for Excellence are promoted by the Washington-based Catholic Leadership Roundtable, an organization of Catholic clergy, religious and laity founded in 2005 to promote best practices and accountability in Church management, communications and human resources development

The six principles and 69 benchmarks that make up the standards have been approved by the Baltimore-based Standards for Excellence Institute, which studies best practices for non-profit organizations across the country.

The standards cover such areas of Church management as mission, pastoral leadership, planning and evaluation, legal compliance and ethics, finance and operations, stewardship and public life, engagement and advocacy.

“It’s really all about good leadership on behalf of the Gospel,” said Matt Hayes, the project director overseeing the use of grant funding in the archdiocese. “Our parishes have the opportunity to look at how we work together as an institution.

“We can put up our practices against standards of excellence. If we’re going after developing disciples in this geographic area, we want to do it in the best way possible. We don’t want the way we do it to get in the way.”

Catholics from across the archdiocese who participated in the May workshop will be able to help faith communities learn about the standards, implement them and, later on, evaluate the degree to which they have been met.

Some of the benchmarks represent areas of parish life that are already in place in archdiocesan parishes, such as proper selection processes for pastoral and finance councils.

Others, like risk management, insurance and parish fundraising, might help parishes improve their current practices.

All of them, though, are better maintained, Hayes said, when they are recognized by parish leaders and the meeting of them is regularly evaluated.

Hayes also said that the standards can help parishioners be assured that their financial support of their faith community is being put to its best use.

“If I’m giving every Sunday, I’d love to know that my resources are being used well,” he said. “And one of the ways that I’d know that is if my parish is taking seriously these Catholic standards for excellence in what we do with donations that come in, human resources practices, how we work with our pastoral and finance councils and in how we advocate for areas in public policy.”

Byrne says most of the standards as promoted by the Catholic Leadership Roundtable are similar to the archdiocese’s current policies for parishes. He also noted that, after receiving direction from the archdiocesan officials on what standards and policies are adopted, these standards will be excellent tools to help parishes get a running start in implementing them.

“Instead of them having to create the policies, they adopt policies that have already been tested and used,” he said. “They give us the mechanism to adopt, implement and sustain these policies.”

Byrne also sees the standards benefiting parishes by helping them maintain an efficient management system as their leaders change over the years.

“I see this helping my parish, the parishes within my deanery and within the whole archdiocese,” he said. “It’s just how do we do it so that we don’t just start and then flame out. We’ve got to be sure we can do it in a way that can be sustained.”

Fessel knows this from her 14 years of experience as a lay minister in two parishes in the New Albany Deanery.

“If ever we get to a point where a program relies on one individual, we’re in trouble,” she said. “We have to plan for our succession just to make sure that ministry continues to be successful.

“If we are able to align ourselves with the standards, we can build more trust with our parishioners. The consistency will be there, no matter who’s in leadership.” †

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