September 4, 2019
I have some important information to share with you, as well as a vital request. Please read this letter in its entirety and prayerfully consider what is being asked of you.
During the month of August, the Archdiocese conducted a financial audit of Immaculate Conception Parish and Holy Child School (which is the standard practice when a new pastor is installed). The audit includes an examination of both our finance practices (how money is collected, recorded, disbursed, etc.) as well as the financial state of the parish and school. The auditors found that we have done a good job of coming into compliance with Archdiocesan policies with the handling of money. These policies are designed to protect a parish and school from fraud, theft, or misappropriation of funds. They are fundamentally a protection of our assets.
But the auditors also conducted a thorough review of the financial state of our parish and school. Our parish has been running on a balanced budget, although somewhat frugally (breaking even, but barely). That is the good news. Regarding Holy Child School, the auditors identified a serious problem, and it involves our parish subsidy to Holy Child School. (The parish subsidy to the school is the amount Immaculate Conception gives to Holy Child School each year to help the school meet its operating expenses.) The auditors tell us that Immaculate Conception parish must immediately increase its annual subsidy to Holy Child School by 101,000 dollars or the school will be operating at a severe deficit for its current fiscal year. This will affect rather seriously our ability to meet our expenses. That is the purpose of this letter to you.
Before I explain how we can meet this need, I will first explain how we got there. As it turns out, for the past fifteen years, the parish subsidy to the school has been too low. It should have been increased incrementally each year at a higher rate than it was. Both the subsidy and the tuition were able to remain relatively low each year because every time the school faced a deficit, it would suspend the school assessment payments to the Archdiocese. (Both parishes and schools are assessed or “taxed” by the Archdiocese in order to pay for Archdiocesan services to both institutions.) For fifteen years, this was a cycle: the school would be in the black and pay the assessments, which would then drive the school into the red. The school would then suspend payments, sometimes for long periods, in order to be in the black. As a result, we currently are in arears with the Archdiocese by 53,000 dollars (which accrued over many years). Had the parish subsidy been properly adjusted each year, the assessments would have been paid and the school would have had enough money to meet its operating expenses. But that was not the case. We must now adjust the annual subsidy each year to reflect the actual cost of having a parish school.
I would first like you to know that for some time now the parish has resumed our assessment payments to the Archdiocese because it is the right thing to do. Thanks to Elaine Phillips, our parish bookkeeper, we recently received an Archdiocesan matching grant for payments on past defaults. It is a small consolation that there are other schools and parishes in much worse shape, with unpaid assessments of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Adding to our current need to increase our annual parish subsidy to the school is the fact that education costs have gone up. We have an excellent school faculty, good programming, and a decent building, but our subsidy is not enough to adequately cover the costs. While we can look at how to reduce costs, there isn’t much to reduce during our current fiscal year. We have one class for each grade level on the school side, and, with the departure of Claudia Anderson, we are down to a secretary and a bookkeeper on the parish side. We share a maintenance man and a religious education coordinator. So the lion’s share for now will have to come from an increased subsidy.
I know this is a lot to ask, but my request is this: whatever you are currently giving to Immaculate Conception Parish, please increase your giving so that we can increase our subsidy to the school. As I said before, on the parish side, we are breaking even, but barely (and that includes our current subsidy to the school). We can only increase our subsidy to the school by an increase in your already-generous giving. While a 101,000 dollar increase sounds like an incredible amount, we will be able to do it if people are willing to help. If 200 parishioners increase their giving by ten dollars a week, we will have met our goal to subsidize the school. If 100 families increase their giving by twenty dollars a week, we will have met our goal. I’m sure there are also some very generous people who will give far more than that, and both I and the people served by Holy Child School will be grateful. And even if you are not directly connected to Holy Child School, your gift will benefit the parish which subsidizes the school, since it is our responsibility to meet that need.
On our parish website there is now a link where you can make a one-time donation to the parish subsidy to the school (it is a restricted account and the money cannot be used for other purposes). We will also be doing the financial portion of our stewardship appeal this coming weekend (September 7-8) and you will have the opportunity to pledge how much you will be increasing your financial giving to the parish. If you wish to pledge your entire increase in giving to the parish subsidy to the school, then please specify it on your pledge card and then in your check memo, designate which amount is unrestricted (used for parish operating expenses or some other purpose) and which is intended for the subsidy to the school. (If you do online giving, you can set up recurring payments for the subsidy in addition to your regular giving). Finally, beginning in October, there will be a specific envelope in your envelope labelled “Parish Subsidy to Holy Child School.” My hope is by November 1, we will have received enough pledges and immediate donations to cover the cost of our additional subsidy to the school.
There is on important aspect in my request to you: whatever your current parish giving, the additional pledge for the parish subsidy must truly be additional. If you simply transfer your current giving amount to the subsidy for the school, then we will be robbing Peter to pay Paul and the parish (and eventually the school) will be thrown into a deficit. The well-being of both Immaculate Conception Parish and Holy Child School are intertwined. If one is in crisis, then both are. Anyone who supports the parish but not the school, or the school but not the parish, does not understand the reality of the situation. We have to be strong together in order to support one another.
I believe that certain measures need to be taken in order to avoid such problems in the future. As pastor, here is what I am proposing:
- 1) We create a Holy Child Finance Council that will work in tandem with the Immaculate Conception Finance Council. Our school board is currently in the process of exploring this possibility.
- 2) We will add two new members to the Immaculate Conception Finance Council to increase representation. These new members will have a background in accounting and finance.
- 3) We will invite representatives from the Archdiocesan finance office to come out and work with both finance councils on how to spot potential problems before they occur. Parishes are facing bigger financial challenges and we need the input of the Archdiocese on how to address them.
- 4) Both Holy Child School and our PSR program will work on increasing family Mass attendance. It is important that our young people understand the importance of attending Sunday liturgy AND the importance of tithing to support the parish that serves them.
- 5) We will pursue more grants. I am in the process of applying for an Archdiocesan Parish Viability Grant that will help to finance improvements to our access road off of Michigan Avenue. The school has received grants in the past to help subsidize improvements as well. We will continue pursuing this form of funding.
- 6) We will invite Dave Baranowski from the Archdiocesan Stewardship Office to begin working with the parish on increasing stewardship and evangelization.
I know this is a long letter, and it is not the happiest of news. I’ve only been pastor here for a year and while I love it, this is the part that is hardest for me. It is very difficult to make this sort of request. But it is also inspiring for me, because I know how many of you will respond beautifully and generously. Please know that you are in my prayers, and even on days like this, I am so grateful to be part of your lives.