A practical application of stewardship has helped Catholic schools throughout the Jefferson City diocese fulfill their mission well into the 21st century.
An intentionally Catholic spirituality of stewardship will help them thrive for generations to come.
Stewardship is the responsibility of all parishioners, and living as active stewards provides a positive result for all parish ministries, including schools.
“In parishes that have Catholic schools, the school tends to be the hub of activity,” said Father Jason Doke, pastor of St. Martin Parish in St. Martins.
“So when everything is going well in the school, things are going well in the parish,” he said. “And when you have a longstanding tradition of providing that kind of good experience, people want to continue to be a part of it.”
For decades, the parishes and administration of this diocese have classified Catholic grade schools as a ministry of their parishes — supported not just by the hard work and giving of the students’ families but by all parishioners.
This diocese and Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s home Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, are two of the few in this country that operate their Catholic schools in this manner.
“The course this diocese chose to take many years ago has opened the doors to a quality faith-based education for thousands of people in these 38 counties,” said Bishop McKnight.
“The next level”
Promoting stewardship as a basis for carrying out the work of the Church in every parish is one of Bishop McKnight’s pastoral priorities for this diocese.
The spirituality of stewardship comes from the Bible, with God telling His People to put Him first, pray and worship together and give sacrificially of their work and their wealth in thanksgiving to Him.
Father Stephen Jones, diocesan stewardship director, said a key to a proper understanding of stewardship is intentionality.
“We’re working on conversion of life through intentional discipleship,” he said. “Stewardship and discipleship are symbiotic. You cannot have one without the other.”
The biblical model of stewardship presents sacrificial giving of time, talent and treasure as a spiritual endeavor, a necessary response to all that God has done and given.
Fr. Jones and Patricia Lutz, associate director of stewardship for the diocese, have been working with parishes to help their members adopt this mentality and put it fully into practice.
In terms of carrying out the mission of Catholic education, that means building on and solidifying the legacy of stewardship that’s already in place — “and taking it up to the next level,” said Fr. Jones.
It means conveying a clear, intentional, Catholic understanding of stewardship as a condition to following the Lord.
Fr. Jones said that without that intentionality, it’s too easy for Catholic schools to become “religiously-based public schools,” rather than “places where disciples are actively engaged and formed.”
He pointed out that many Catholic schools throughout the United States are suffering from low enrollment. Some have closed.
Meanwhile, Catholic-school enrollment in this diocese continues to rise.
“Make no mistake about it: What we have been doing for at least the past 30 past years in this diocese has been a tremendous blessing,” said Fr. Jones. “Countless people have been educated and formed in the faith.”
“Our goal now,” he continued, “is to flesh out that relationship and live it in all of its fullness by really emphasizing the spirituality of stewardship — by giving over a portion of ourselves, of who we are and what we are, and presenting it back to God out of gratitude for the gifts He has given us.”
Under the diocesan pastoral plan the people of this diocese discerned and Bishop McKnight adopted in February 2021, parishes are moving to a full stewardship model for supporting the mission of the Church.
Parishioners will commit to participating regularly in prayer and worship, and sustained, sacrificial giving in the form of time, talent and financial support.
This will eliminate the need for constant fund-raisers.
“All ministries of the parish, including the school, should be supported by the proportional and sacrificial giving of parishioners on an ongoing basis, which is known as a tithe,” said Fr. Jones.
Under this model, each parish’s stewardship council works with the pastor to call every member, every family, to accountability.
“There has to be an ongoing outreach and invitation to our families,” Fr. Jones noted. “We need to see them consistently at Mass. They need to be modeling discipleship for their children throughout the week. They need to be active and involved.”
Ideally, each parishioner would meet with the pastor each year and the pastor would review with them the importance of participating in the sacramental life of the Church, bringing forth their time and talent, and helping defray the financial costs of ministry.
This discussion must always take place in the form of an invitation.
“The understanding for school parents is that your parish is sponsoring your child in enrollment in a Catholic school,” said Fr. Jones. “The best way to partner with us in this sponsorship is to come to Mass each weekend and take on some involvement in the community. The understanding for all parishioners is that all parish ministries, including our school, benefit from stewardship because our children are our future.”
St. Martin Parish in St. Martins is one parish that’s in the process of making stewardship part of everyday life.
Fr. Doke, the pastor, has met individually with parishioners and made sure they clear on what is expected of them and of everyone else in the parish.
He said the response has already been phenomenal.
More families come to Mass on Sundays. More people are volunteering at church and school.
And without looking at individual records, Fr. Doke is confident that giving has increased, too.
“There’s a relationship that forms when you sit down and meet with people individually,” he said. “When you get to know them and they know you, the accountability actually means something.
“Everyone has a story,” he stated, “and when they know Father knows their story, it’s easier for them to respond to that invitation.”
Having more people get involved provides more opportunities for fellow parishioners to welcome them.
“Hospitality is where it all starts, which means we all have to get out of our comfort zone,” said Fr. Doke. “If we can’t do that, we won’t be able to do the rest of it.”
“Practice for heaven”
The transition to a stewardship model for parish finances is taking place over three years, with groups of parishes learning the process each year with help from the diocesan Stewardship Office.
The goal is for all parishes to make the change by July 2023.
At that time, all parishioners will support the Church through a sacrificial tithe to their parishes. Out of that, parishes will make a tithe to the bishop to support the work of the diocese.
The diocese will tithe its own income to support the Church’s worldwide mission.
“We’ve been working with parishes to help make this transition, and it’s been very well received,” Fr. Jones stated.
He pointed out that promoting the spirituality of stewardship will continue for generations.
The ultimate goal is to build up vibrant faith communities that assist and welcome their neighbors and follow Christ to heaven.
“That’s how we grow a community of saints,” said Fr. Jones. “The life of the parish culminating in the parish Eucharist is the ‘dim mirror’ we see here of the heavenly reality. It’s how we practice for heaven.”