May 22, 2024

By Renae Kranz

Parishes, Catholic schools and other Catholic entities in our diocese have a secret weapon tucked in their back pockets. (Well, if they had back pockets, that’s where they would keep it.)

What is this secret weapon?

It’s the many Catholic professionals at the diocesan Chancery Office working to assist them in any way they can, and their service to parishes, schools and other Catholic entities is supported by the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal (CFSA).

Chancery offices such as Human Resources (HR), Information Technology (IT) and the Finance Office have offered critical support over the years at no cost for parishes, schools and other entities (such as the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House), making it possible for them to keep their mission front and center.

Not only do Chancery offices help with administrative needs, but the Discipleship and Evangelization Office (D&E) specifically supports parishes in their efforts at developing lifelong Catholic missionary disciples to go out and build up Christ’s Church on earth. A new initiative D&E began last year is called the School of Missionary Discipleship, and it’s already helping regular Catholics grow closer to Christ and giving them the tools they need to become the disciples God created them to be.

With changes coming to our diocese through the Set Ablaze planning initiative, the support of the Chancery Office will become even more critical. Let’s take a look at the work of these diocesan offices, supported by your generous gifts to the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal, to understand their impact on our parishes and our mission in the diocese.

Human Resources

The HR department assists parishes, schools and priests with issues such as personnel issues, insurance benefits, job postings and advertising, job descriptions, benefits billing, and help with regulations and reporting. It’s a job that department Director Twila Roman knows is not possible for parishes to do on their own.

“I really get excited when I have a priest call me and say, ‘Twila, I need to fill this position, but I don’t even know where to start.’ I tell them, ‘Father, you called the right place,’” Twila said. “When it’s not something you do every day, you don’t realize the ins and outs. It’s a great way for us here at the Chancery Office to be able to assist those parishes across the diocese.”

Twila and her team have created various templates for job descriptions, timesheet tracking and even parish handbooks so parishes and other Catholic entities don’t have to recreate the wheel. All they have to do is reach out to the HR office and ask for what they need.

“I’m always so excited when a parish will say, ‘Oh my gosh, this was so easy! The fact that all we had to do was edit these few sections, and we know from a legal standpoint we have the right things involved.’ That’s just so helpful,” Twila said.

Twila Roman, Director of HR

Lisa Elsinger, the business manager for St. Thomas More Parish in Brookings, has experienced first hand how the HR team helps parishes. When she runs up against something she hasn’t dealt with before, she knows she can count on their help. She described a particular time several years ago when a parish employee had a medical issue.

“The insurance claims and everything got really complicated, and they were right there to answer questions,” Lisa said. “They worked directly with the employee to solve all of the questions they had. And it was a real lifesaver for us to be able to trust them to help the employee get through that process.”

The Bishop Dudley Hospitality House (BDHH) turns to the HR office for help with many things, but most often needs help with hiring. With about 30 employees and significant turnover due to the difficult work, they couldn’t survive without their help.

Executive director of BDHH, Madeline Shields, says they need a lot of people to help them complete their mission of helping the most vulnerable in our community. Without the help of the HR office at the Chancery, it would be difficult to find employees and get them ready to work.

“They work collaboratively to get all the paperwork done, get people onboarded and get them into Paycom. It is a fabulous collaboration and one that we would be in dire straits without,” Madeline said.

Without the assistance of the diocesan HR office, both St. Thomas More and BDHH would have to hire their own HR staff. However, more staff means fewer financial resources to put toward the mission and more time having to fundraise. That is something Twila doesn’t want to see any Catholic entity in the diocese have to do.

“I want them out there with their people. I want them to be able to evangelize face-to-face in their parish and do that so effectively where they’re not worrying about these administrative things that we can help with,” Twila said.

Information Technology

The IT world can be intimidating to those who don’t live in it. The director of the IT Office, Dawn Wolf, and her team know this well. They assist parishes, priests, schools and other groups with new computer set-up, hardware, software, network upgrades, phone systems and much more. And they do it with great love and patience.

“I always joke if it has a battery or plugs into the wall, it’s considered technology and we will help them with that,” Dawn said. “Adam Staebell in our office is an amazing hardware technician and can fix almost anything. If you need data or a report created, John Woodraska is amazing at all things data. And they do it all with a heart for the mission.”

Father Chuck Cimpl spent much of his time as a pastor in large parishes with good technology and people to help him when problems arose. When he retired from active ministry last summer, other retired priests told him what a big help the IT team was to them. Father Cimpl knew a call to Dawn and her team had to be one of the first things he did when moving into his new home. Dawn helped him purchase the computer, laptop and printer he needed, and Adam made a house call to hook everything up.

“When Adam came over to my place, he was so patient with me, and what was really helpful to me was staying connected with the diocese,” Father Cimpl said. “I know I couldn’t have done it myself. They’re so kind about everything. And what’s neat about it is that CFSA supports not only retired priests directly, but also the IT department that helps us.”

Dawn Wolf, Director of IT

Father Patrick Grode makes good use of the talents of the IT team. As pastor at the Pius XII Newman Center at SDSU in Brookings, technology takes on a whole new sense of importance, and Father Grode emphasizes the critical nature of having good wifi and technology at the Catholic home-away-from-home for many college students.

“We need to make this a place where students can come in and study and feel welcome, and part of what they need, because learning is more and more interactive and computer-based and web-based, is to have good wifi so that they can connect to what they need to get their classes completed,” Father Grode said.

Without that reliable connection and help on the other end of the phone when things go wrong, it would be difficult for Father Grode to get students into the Newman Center. And if they don’t come, they likely won’t keep an even more important connection, the one they have with God.

The fact that the Newman Center doesn’t have to pay for the IT help they get from the diocese means they can keep their shoestring budget from breaking. That’s a big deal for a ministry working hard to keep young people interested in their faith.

“The support we get from the Chancery is invaluable,” Father Grode said. “As a Newman Center, we’re a major beneficiary of CFSA dollars, not just indirectly through help from the IT department, but also CFSA funds are a chunk of our budget every year. So as we continue to have outreach for college students and make the sacraments available on college campuses, CFSA is a big part of how that happens.”

On top of all the help the IT team offers, they are also able to offer discounts on needed technology through collective buying power. But in the end, it’s really all about serving others.

“We like to think of ourselves as servants for the servants of God,” Dawn said, “helping them advance the mission of the Church.”

Finance Office

Another office in the Chancery that helps advance the mission through their assistance to parishes is the Finance Office. They offer accounting and payroll services, and they provide end-of-year tax services, parish reviews of internal controls and best practices, and a helpline for all parishes to call with questions. If that wasn’t enough, they also provide services for other Catholic entities, including The Lourdes Center and Bishop Dudley Hospitality House.

“We’re able to relieve the priests of some of the administrative duties of the parish and provide controls to help ensure that proper accounting is performed,” Scott Johnson, CFO for the Chancery, said. “That helps our priests accomplish the mission of their parishes.”

Scott Johnson, CFO for the Chancery

St. Mary Parish in Salem depends on the Finance Office for bookkeeping and payroll assistance for the parish and school. Their help allows Administrative Assistant Barb Hoiten more time to do the many other items on her list each day. When she first started her job at the parish, she relied on them to help her get up and running.

“They’re very supportive and so kind and gracious,” Barb said. “No question ever made you feel dumb or anything. They were just so helpful.”

At the St. Thomas More Newman Center at USD in Vermillion, Father John Rutten loves his financial statements, but he doesn’t want to do the work to create them. And as was experienced by Father Grode in Brookings, Father Rutten’s tight budget makes assistance from the Chancery that much more important. All he needs in his office is an administrative assistant who can do invoicing and organizing, and the Finance Office is so flexible in their service, they can do the rest.

“The flexibility has been a huge blessing that has always ensured no matter who I’m working with on staff, I am able to get what I need in the financial documents to interpret what I need to, and to continue the mission of whatever assignment that I’ve been in,” Father Rutten said.

Father Rutten says the Finance Office helps them be good financial stewards of the gifts parishioners and donors give them, and he doesn’t have to think about those pieces of the puzzle or worry about them.

“It helps the Newman Center accomplish its mission because it allows us to do the thing we really love to do and are called to do, which is bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the students at the University of South Dakota,” Father Rutten said. “It just is a huge blessing to know that the financial support that is coming to us in the Newman Center is well stewarded.”

School of Missionary Discipleship

A key initiative of the diocese is building up missionary disciples, and to further that initiative, the D&E Office, led by Father Scott Traynor, launched the School of Missionary Discipleship last year. More than 280 lay people, priests and deacons took part in the first year, which focused on prayer.

“Discipleship is a matter of coming to know Jesus through repeated encounters with him, falling in love with him, and desiring to follow wherever he leads me in my life,” Father Traynor said. “So if we want people to become disciples, we have to learn how to pray in a relational way. We have to become familiar with Scripture, the word of God, which is living and effective, and has the power to transform each one of our lives.”

The School is spread over three years and focuses on three pillars: one year on prayer, the second on Scripture and the third on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Father Traynor says these three pillars are “a great gift to move the vision of the diocese forward. And it’s all made possible by the generous support of the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal.”

Walt Rueschhoff has experienced a reversion of faith over the last five years and decided to make the School part of his formation as a disciple so he could learn more and defend his Catholic faith. Now in the prayer year of the School, he is making regular time for prayer each day and learning different methods of prayer to use during a variety of life’s challenges.

“Just like working out, if you do the same exercise over and over again, your body gets used to it, and you need to change it up a little bit,” Walt said. “It gives you different ways to look at prayer.”

Walt Rueschhoff

Walt has found one of his struggles with prayer is to stay focused. He would find himself talking about God instead of talking to God. The School has helped him find ways to redirect himself when he got distracted. And his prayer life has become more fruitful because of the things he’s learning.

“Prayer is an invitation for us to acknowledge God is working with us and to call on him and his graces to help us through what he’s calling us to do,” Walt said. “And you start to see those prayers get answered and you see how powerful those things are.”

Barb Rezac enrolled in the School to grow more in her faith so she could be more effective with the group of youth she mentors and in her position as vice president for mission and advancement at Mount Marty University. She was surprised about the School’s opportunities to grow not only intellectually, but also spiritually.

“One thing that I really learned and was enforced with me through this program was the value of silence,” Barb said, “and to really spend time in silence every day, to be able to listen to what God is asking of us and what God is trying to share with us, and how to learn and understand how God loves us.”

The School has helped her grow closer to God and understand her faith more. She’s now ready to be the missionary disciple God created her, and all of us, to be.

“I just receive a lot of joy in my spiritual journey, and I just want to share that with everyone,” Barb said. “This program gives me the tools, it gave me the opportunities, it gave me the knowledge to be able to share that with others and to help them in their spiritual growth.”

Father Traynor has seen tremendous results so far from those participating in the School. They’re experiencing Mass in a new way, praying more frequently and deeply, and connecting the Bible in fresh ways. The program couldn’t happen without the generosity of those who give to CFSA.

“I’m really grateful that through the generosity of the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal, we have the resources to support the mission of parishes in offering the systematic and in-depth formation in prayer and allowing Scripture to come alive and really understanding what the Church believes and why, and why it makes a difference,” Father Traynor said.

Your gifts matter

The gifts you give through the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal support the work and mission of our parishes, schools and Catholic entities by supporting the “servants of the servants” as Dawn Wolf called them. They not only impact others, but in a real way, they feel the impact on their own faith.

“The work that we do with the parishes and pastors has affected my faith in such a deep way. It has shown me that it takes all of us and all kinds to help the kingdom of God be furthered,” Twila said.

We are all asked to support each other in one faith and as one family. As we move ahead with a new structure for the diocese, let us remember that we only have each other to turn to and that our support of the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal has deep and lasting effects.