People in the pews participate in diocesan decisions and planning

The Diocesan Finance Council.

By Megan Marley and Marty Denzer

KANSAS CITY — How involved are regular ‘people in the pews’ in what happens at a diocesan level?

They provide more input than you’d think.

While there are a number of offices carrying out the functions of a diocese, a great deal of the decisions and planning made requires the participation of layfolk volunteering to serve on a variety of committees, boards and councils. These groups provide input in a spectrum of fields, from balancing the budget to prison ministry, fundraising for Catholic education to planning events, retreats and trainings in a variety of offices.

Below are insights into just a few of the many groups working behind-the-scenes:

Diocesan School Board
The diocesan School Board is comprised of parents from eight geographical/demographic regions of the diocese called pods, who serve on a voluntary basis for 2-3 years.

“We’re in an advisory capacity at the diocesan level to Dan and Pat [diocesan Catholic schools superintendent and associate superintendent] to make decisions for the schools, advice, bringing feedback from our parishes and schools,” said board president Michelle Henzlik, who represents the southern rural areas that include her home parish/school of St. Mary’s in Montrose. “Most of us are either parents in schools and/or on school boards back in parishes.”

Each member visits other school boards within their pod to communicate struggles and solutions beyond the parish level, and to share ideas and resources back. There’s also been a mini diocesan conference on topics of interest for the school advisory councils.

“I think having some representation being on the diocese, hearing what’s going on amongst the other parishes and gaining some insight from this level is also very helpful as we move forward as a community of St. Joseph figuring out what our next steps are…how to increase enrollment, Catholic education, and what is the best for our students and the community as a whole,” said board vice president Todd Meierhoffer, who represents the St. Joseph region. He noted the St. Joseph area is also doing a listening session on curriculum and structure for the region’s three K-8 schools and one high school for feedback.

Board member Jacob Palan represents an inner city schools pod, which faces challenges such as diversity and poverty.

“We may face some unique issues in our schools—and it’s really nice to be hearing from other schools,” he said. “It’s both informative and aspirational for our group.”

Liturgical Commission
Liturgical advisory committees have existed in one form or another since at least the 1940s—in an encyclical on liturgy, Pope Pius XII requested each diocese have one ‘so that with your watchful guidance everything may be carefully carried out in accordance with the prescriptions of the Apostolic See’ [Mediator Dei, 1947]. The concept was reiterated in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, as well as by the U.S. bishops’ secretariat for the Liturgy.

“The purpose of it is to assist the Office of Worship as a diocese and making decisions about liturgical issues,” said Christie Ottinger, member of the diocesan Liturgical Commission who is also music director at Bishop LeBlond High School and a 30+-year musician at St. Joseph parish in Easton. Some of those decisions are how to go about propagating new rites for sacraments, organizing special Masses, training for musicians, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and lectors, and creating cohesion among the diverse languages used within parishes.

“It’s a nice way to see how our different communities work together and support each other,” Ottinger said.

“People do consult and people’s experience is valued beyond those just on staff—the Church is listening and learning,” said Carol Matthews, long-time member of the diocesan Liturgical Commission.

“I think it helps the diocese to have people in parishes to give feedback, to understand how things are happening in the parishes,” Matthews continued. “It’s consulting with a larger body of people than just from a parish too.”

Matthews also said the Commission is made up of those with parish experience (either as staff or volunteer), as well as clergy and academics in liturgy. She’s both in a parish and an academic—she’s been a liturgist at Holy Spirit parish in Lee’s Summit for 18 years and has a Masters in Pastoral Studies.

“Liturgy involves a lot of people on the parish level and the diocesan level,” she concluded.

The Diocesan Finance Council, in the words of Dave Malanowski, the Diocesan Finance Officer, is a 16-member consultative body that provides advice to the Bishop in areas of finance and business, as well as certain acts of extraordinary administration, similar in ways to how a parish finance council advises a pastor.

While advisory in nature, there are certain matters in financial administration that require actual consent of the Finance Council, for example, certain types of property transactions and changes to the Diocesan assessment formula.

Canon Law mandates that members of the Council are skilled in civil law, business and financial affairs, as well as possessing an understanding of and dedication to the Mission of the Church, he said.

Malanowski continued, “The Diocesan Finance Council has two major responsibilities: To review and approve the annual operation budget, and to review and approve the annual Diocesan Audit.”

But, said Eileen Hutchison, C.P.A., C.G.M.A., a member since 2010, “The role of the Diocesan Finance Council is so much more! We are the sounding board for business matters, analyzing potential implications not only from a financial perspective, but also a legal, administrative and pastoral perspective!”

Hutchison began her career as an auditor in a national public accounting firm but spent most of her career in the health insurance industry, retiring in 2016 as Vice-President of Finance, CFO of GEHA, the Government Employees Health Association, Inc.

She was appointed to the Diocesan Finance Council in August 2010, following a 3-year term on the Diocesan School Board.

Malanowski said the Diocesan Finance Council, according to its By-Laws, is comprised of the Finance, Investment and the Presbyterial Councils, and in many ways functions as an internal bank for the diocese. For example, excess parish funds are put on deposit with the diocese, which pays a fair rate of return to the parishes. The diocese is then able to loan funds out to parishes for emergency repairs, construction or renovation costs. What is not loaned out is invested. In essence, invested parishes help other parishes.
The By-Laws also allow the Finance Council to loan funds to the Catholic Chancery for operational expenses.

Hutchison has served on a number of projects and ad hoc committees, first as a member of the Diocesan School Board and now the Finance Council. She said it was difficult “to remember all the projects or ad hoc committees she served on over the years, but the Restructuring Committee; the Board of Trustees of the Deposit and Loan Fund, and the Comprehensive Resources Strategy Committee are the most recent ones that come to mind.”

She described each committee in some detail.

Restructuring Committee: “This committee was established in the spring of 2014 and we were charged with completing a study and implementation of a structural reorganization bringing our Diocesan civil structure in line with canon law. A plan was developed and approved by the Diocesan College of Consultors and the Diocesan Finance Council in September 2014. By the end of that year, separate corporate legal entities were created for the Diocese and each parish and high school within the Diocese. In addition, the Deposit and Loan Trust, along with the Real Estate Trust, were established and assets transferred to these trusts.”

Board of Trustees of the Deposit and Loan Fund
The Finance Council acts as the loan committee for the Deposit and Loan Trust. For parish and school loans in excess of $250,000, the Council reviews the parish or school financials and its ability to repay the loan.

Hutchison explained, “Representing the Diocesan Finance Council, I am one of a seven-member Board of Trustees, that oversees the administration of and monitors the results of the Deposit and Loan Fund.” This fund, she said, holds the deposits of parishes and schools “in trust” primarily to make loans to parishes and schools for new construction and major renovations. Although the Diocesan Investment Committee (with a representative on this Board) continually reviews the investment policies, objectives and performance of the funds, the Trustees of the Deposit and Loan Fund also review these returns. In addition, the Trustees monitor the loans and loan capacity and sets interest rates under the advisement of the Diocesan Finance Council.

Comprehensive Resources Strategy Committee: Hutchison said, “One of the goals of the diocesan vision is to create a comprehensive resource strategy by October 2021. Thus, a working committee was established in the summer of 2019 with the intent to gather information, decipher it and provide recommendations to the Bishop and Diocese.”

Within this committee, subgroups were formed: Information/Communication, People, Property and Financial Resources. “Due to my financial expertise and involvement within the Diocese,” she continued, “I am part of the CRS working committee and the Financial Resources subgroup. We are in the initial phases of this process, but our charge is to review the diocesan financial statements and make recommendations on how we can more effectively respond to the needs identified in the diocesan visioning process. We hope to also prepare some “best practices” or tools for the Diocesan Chancery Operations, schools and parishes, to enhance the effective use of financial resources to achieve the known priorities.”

The Diocesan Finance Officer and the Internal Auditor provide staff support to the Diocesan Finance Council and the Diocesan Investment Committee and serve on the Lay Pension Board and Benefits Committee. The Diocesan Finance Officer also serves on the Priest Pension Board, and as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Deposit & Loan Fund. Lay members of the committees and Councils play an involved important role.


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October 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph