As you pick up the bulletin this week, you might notice that it’s a little bit thicker than usual! Inside you’ll find all sorts of boring numbers that for some reason I decided to put into the bulletin this year! In all seriousness, I really do believe it’s important that we be as transparent as possible in our finances as a Church and that we do what we can to help you, the people, be part of the decision-making. To paraphrase one of my favorite Catholic writers, GK Chesterton: Democracy is a wonderful thing that works very well, when you're not in a hurry. Then he goes on to explain that sometimes we need to let everyone in on the decision, but when we do that it takes a long time. Other times, we need a decision right away and someone has to make the decision. It’s a balance.
Over the course of this year, there’s been a lot of decisions that simply had to be made on the spot. Every so often though, it’s good to stop and get input, to set our priorities, and to look forward together at how we’re doing and where we’re heading. That’s part of what I hope to do this weekend and through restarting our parish council. This year has been quite the experience for me. We had quite a few routines I had to learn, others that simply weren't working that we had to revise and lots of systems to change.
We’ve accomplished quite a bit this year. In the office, we’ve completely updated our parish registrations and moved them into a new, manageable system. We’ve revised our mass intention process and gotten that into a manageable process. We’ve gotten our minister schedules working well, we’ve dramatically straightened out our bookkeeping, we’ve redone our website into something useful, and we’ve completely redesigned our bulletin.
In terms of the facility, we’ve sadly had to close the activity building to programming, but we managed to negotiate a lease with the Library, giving them an area to store their extra books, and keeping the building from being a drain on us. We’ve fixed up some, but not all of the indoor and outdoor lighting, both at the Church and at the Chapel. We had an amazing Christmas display, most of which was purchased and constructed this year. We did have to replace a water tank in the rectory, but we also installed a heat pump system in the rectory, giving us both air conditioning and more efficient heating.
In terms of programming, with the retirement of our DRE, we’ve revamped our religious education program with new books and programming. I’ve very excited for the future there. We’ve secured an online subscription to FORMED, which gives our parishoners access to some amazing Catholic materials, talks, videos, books, and more. We’ve also implemented a new sacramental prep program for Marriage Prep and Baptism Prep. We started a few adult education classes through the use of FORMED. One got cut short due to Covid, but then we hosted another class on prayer entirely online through Zoom. We’ve purchased and installed equipment to do online streaming and we’ve begun streaming both weekend and daily masses, reaching as many as 350 simultaneous viewers during holy week. Even now with things mostly opened up, we still reach around 50 viewers daily. We hired a new Maintenance Man who started just this past week and will be beginning to work on a lot of long-deferred minor repairs and upkeep to our facilities that have needed done for quite a long time. Finally, we’re starting to move on those things.
We had two wonderful dinners, Turkey in the Fall, and Halupki in the Spring. I was so very impressed with all the baskets and all the help. Each of those dinners brought in just about $12,000 a piece to help with the expenses of our parish. I want to offer a special thank you to everyone who was involved with those in any way.
When it comes to our Cemeteries, we’ve come a long way. We’ve gotten our policies firmly straightened out and clarified so that they’re clear, public, and consistent for everyone. When I started, we quite a few maps and no one was quite sure how to make sense of them. We revised our records, our easement forms and clarified processes so that we have clear records when easements are sold or transferred. We raised money for mapping software that’s now purchased and ready. We have aerial photos of the Cemeteries and are nearly ready to enlist volunteers to begin to walk the various sections, identify stones and input data to our new system.
When I look at that, it’s quite a bit to manage in just a year. I’m thankful to everyone who has helped with that process. On the next few pages, you’ll see the various budget numbers. As I prepared my notes on finances, I realized that there was quite a bit to talk about and explain, so I recorded a series of YouTube videos explaining our finances and budget in detail. If you’d like all the nitty-gritty details, please check those out via our website. Here in the bulletin, I’ll just hit some of the highlights.
Overall we’re doing relatively well as a parish. We’re not rich, but we’re stable and able to pay all of our bills. This year we’re up just about $4,000 from last year. With our new bulletins and the restriction of putting out hymnals, we cut our hymnal order for this year. Between savings from the hymnals, income from bulletin advertisement, the cost of licensing for printing the music, and the cost of printing the bulletin, we should come out just a little bit ahead.
This year we received an estate gift that really helped us out, and we had two large diocesan assessments that were not billed due to a change in accounting. Put together that makes us look a bit better than we really are this year. Next year, we’ll be adding a maintenance person, and a bit to the Religious Education budget for the new materials. We will be installing the new heat-pump in the Church. It’s been ordered and is currently being shipped to the vendor who will install it. The Church heat-pump will be paid out of our monthly maintenance savings. So when you see those monthly envelopes, that’s the sort of major repair they go towards. For this upcoming year, we also renegotiated our school assessment. Moving forward, we should be much more in-line with what other sending parishes pay.
I know that’s a lot of information, and I still need to say a few words about the cemetery, but I just want to offer a heart-felt thank you to everyone here at Prince of Peace in the last year. We’ve done some amazing things this year. I know we’re only just getting started, but I want to thank everyone for what they’ve done so far and I’m looking forward to what we can do in this coming year.
Whenever we put together our financial reports for the Parish, I'm very happy to report that while we're not rich, our parish is now in reasonably healthy financial shape. I wish I could say the same about our cemetery. In the year I've been here, there's been a lot of mis-information making the rounds about our cemeteries and I wanted to wait until now, a year later to set some of the record straight and share some of the real numbers with you.
We do have a few pretty serious concerns with our cemeteries, but I'm hopeful that we have some reasonable strategies to begin addressing those concerns.
Before I get too far, I think it's helpful to give a little bit of an overview of how cemetery finances are supposed to work. I hope that will clear up some of the conflicting pieces you may have heard in the past and help us all get onto the same page making a path forward.
A well run cemetery has two main accounts: An ordinary fund and a perpetual care fund. The ordinary fund is the checking account we use to pay all of the normal bills for the cemetery, things like paying the people who cut the grass and maintaining the equipment they use.
The perpetual care fund is something called an endowment. It's money that's permanently invested and the interest on that investment goes into the ordinary fund to pay the bills. By design, we can never take out the principal from that fund so that it will continue to produce interest funding the cemetery's operations perpetually, hence, "perpetual care"
The perpetual care fund is supposed to be managed by a foundation on our behalf. In our case, the Independent Foundation for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown manages our perpetual care fund. Every time an easement is sold for that cemetery, a percentage of that sale goes into that perpetual care fund. That way, there's enough money to pay for the grass-cutting and any needed repairs for the cemetery.
That's how it's supposed to work, but now comes the part where things get interesting. I can't speak for how things were handled before my arrival here at Prince of Peace. It’s easy to go round-and-round talking about things should have been done. Yet, we can’t change the past, we can only examine where we are and look forward. With that in mind, I'd like to give you an honest accounting of where we are right now.
When I arrived, we had just about $250,000 in our perpetual care fund. That fund typically pays out around 4.5% interest every year. In a normal year that would give us around $11,250 in interest. In 2018, Fr Don had moved the money into the Independent Foundation as it should have always been. That move happened mid-way through the year. That’s why last year we only received about 1/2 of a typical year's interest. When we combine that with the instability fo the market this year, our perpetual care fund gave us just about $4,600. This fiscal year, we just recently received the endowment check for a little over $8,600 or about 3.3% interest. Considering the current state of the market, that’s still a pretty good return. The only other major income the cemetery has are grave sales and our parish cemetery collection. This year, Grave sales, grave opening feesbrought in $4800 and our parish collection brought in $3,200. Not counting our special projects, that brings us to about $12,600 total annual income.
Here's the problem. We have 5 Cemeteries. Just the mowing and trimming costs between $250-$400 per cemetery, per cut. Currently we have each of the cemeteries cut and trimmed every other week. When we consider a cutting season of March through October our grass cutting costs come to around $27k. It doesn't take an accountant to figure out that it's pretty hard to manage a cemetery when our income on a good year would be $19k, and our regular expenses not counting improvements are around $27k.
For many years, the cemetery had simply paid the bills out of the grave sales for the year and did not invest any money in the perpetual care fund. Over time, that sort of band-aid gradually made the problem grow bigger and bigger. Combine that with the fact that as that budget became tighter and tighter, there weren't funds to properly maintain the cemetery records, volunteers from before the merger grew older and older, and it became more and more difficult to locate and sell graves. That meant the cemetery gradually had less and less income.
That pretty much describes the problem as well as I can put it. You're welcome to look at the numbers to get a good sense of what I'm describing.
So I’m proposing we work toward a realistic long-term solution for the problem. The reality is, if we keep doing what we're doing, the problem is only going to get worse. I'm proposing that in the short-term, we as a parish, need to assume the responsibility for the bills the cemetery can't afford to pay right now. If we do that, we'll be able to start to properly fund our perpetual care fund from the sale of graves, the way it was supposed to happen in the first place. If we are consistent, over the next few years, we will be able to build up our perpetual care fund to the point where the cemetery will be self-sustaining in the way it's supposed to be.
In real numbers, I believe that's going to cost the parish around a $10k-15k per year. Thankfully, since we've restructured our Catholic School assessment this year, we'll basically be swapping some of what we used to pay toward Catholic Education with this new cemetery assessment. We estimate that it’s going to take around $700k in the perpetual care fund for the cemetery to be fully funded and fully self-sufficient. Obviously that's not going to happen in one year. It’s going to be a process that will take many years. Still, it’s not an all-or-nothing solution. Every time we add money to that perpetual care fund, we get a little more in interest the following year. Each year can move us closer and closer to sustainability.
I have to be realistic that it’s going to take a long time to build that fund up to where it should be, but like most things that take a long time, they won't ever happen unless we start somewhere. I know it’s not the most pleasant news, but I really think we can do it, and leave things set up well for the next generation.
God Bless You—Fr Matt
It was a long time in coming, but it’s so good to see so many things that we’ve been working on for a long time really start to take shape.
Last week, we started religious education again. The students and catechists are started with their new materials, and our first week went very well. I was joking with Sister Karen that we’ve been doing about 6 months worth of planning work over the course of about 3 weeks. Now that we’re started, it’s good to see our kids learning again, and to see the possibilities ahead of us.
This weekend, we celebrate Catechetical Sunday. I want to really thank our team of very dedicated catechists who have really stepped up this year. I can’t say enough how important our catechists are to our parish. Of course if you’d be interested in helping as a Catechist, either as a sub, or as a teacher in the future, please contact Sister. At the 11am and 5pm masses we’ll be having a short prayer and blessing of our Catechists.
For the last few weeks I’ve been mentioning how I’d like to get our Parish Pastoral Council up and running again. I’ve posted a copy of the new by-laws to our website, and I’ll have a few copies in the back of Church for anyone who wants to look over them. Beginning this weekend until October 18th, I’d invite anyone to put a name of someone they’d like to nominate in the box. Please don’t limit this to people who have served in the past, I’d really like to see our new council be a healthy cross-section of our parish. Please think of folks you would like to see in charge of things. It’s easy to say “Someone ought to do something about that.” Please help me find the people who will say instead, “I’d like to do something about that.” Remember, all parish council members must be a registered parishioner and a practicing Catholic in good standing. Due to the nature of COVID, I do have to ask that anyone that serves be at least willing to work with us on the potential for virtual meetings occasionally. I’m very much looking forward to being able to have some open meetings discussing plans for our parish and involving more members of our parish in the decision-making process.
The other major project that’s been pending is our cemetery mapping. We have access to the new system and it feels like we’re finally making some progress. We’ll be having a Cemetery Committee meeting this Wednesday at 7pm in the Hall discussing the mapping project. So far we have the new section of St. Stan’s cemetery pretty much mapped. It was one of the smallest, easiest sections, and we wanted to establish a process before we dove in head first. I hope to be ready to work on the other sections soon. Thank you again to those who have already volunteered to walk the cemeteries helping us to verify maps and collect information off of stones. I hope to have more of a plan together after we meet this Wednesday.
Next, I’d like to remind everyone that we won’t have a normal homily next Weekend. Once a year, I like to set aside one Sunday as a Stewardship Sunday to share with everyone a sort of “state-of-the-parish” talk. I’ll be sharing an overview of our parish finances. Some of the major things we’ve accomplished in the last year or so, as well as some of our concerns and setbacks. Because this is the end of my first year here and there’s a lot of information, particularly financial information, I’ll be giving you the “cliff-notes” version at mass. For those interested in the full, detailed picture via a YouTube video that I’ll post to our parish YouTube/Facebook/Website. I’ll be including an overview of the parish financials in the bulletin, with copies available on the website.
Finally, on a lighter note, please get all of your dogs, cats, birds, turtles, guinea pigs, bunnies, snakes, and ferrets ready on a leash or in a cage. It won’t be long until Sunday October 4th, the feast of St. Francis is upon us. We’ll do the annual blessing of pets at 1pm on Saturday, October 3rd. We’ll gather at the handicapped entrance to the Church. I always look forward to the most unusual pets. So far, my favorite was a few years ago when I had a family pull in with a pickup-truck and trailer so that I could bless their goats. Just so you know, that’s the standard to beat this year!
God Bless You All! Now and always!
I hope that everyone had a joyful Labor Day weekend. Every year, Labor Day seems to mark the change from summer vacation into the return to our normal schedules in the fall.
I hope that all of our young people at Northern Cambria had a good first week of school. For those at NCCS or Bishop Carroll, they’ve been back for a little while now. Still, now that all the schools are back, it feels like fall is officially here.
This weekend our parish religious education also begins. I’m thankful to our new DRE, Sister Karen, all of our returning Catecheists, and all of our parents for working with us to get this very different year off the ground. I know it’s not easy adjusting to a new schedule both for regular school and for religious education, but we will continue to work through everything together. I know that I’m very much looking forward to being able to play a more active role in our High School Religious Ed this year, as we move into a bit of a different format. I know it’s been a bit of a change. Some of our 7th-11th grade young people really liked the idea of being able to sleep in on Sunday Mornings. Others are a little worried about conflicts in the schedule through the upcoming year. With Sister joining us very quickly, and with our information constantly changing, I’m always afraid that information gets missed in the shuffle. Please continue to watch the bulletin every weekend for updated information. I know this is all new territory, and we had to rush some of these changes through without as much of the normal survey process that I would have liked. We know that with COVID, we all need to be hyper-vigilant about sickness, and we’re working on making sure parents have access to online tools to make sure our children can continue to learn about their faith no matter what the future brings.
Please know that if there are concerns, you are always welcome to contact Sister or I about them. Most of the time we can work something out together, but we can only work things out if you talk to us!
I’m also very excited that in the last few weeks I’ve been contacted by a number of adults who were either interested in becoming Catholic or coming back to the Church and completing the sacrament of Confirmation that they had missed when they were a teenager. It’s exciting to know that we’ll be beginning to work with those folks in the near future. As our class is still forming, if you know of any other adults who missed their confirmation or are interested in becoming Catholic, please ask them to call the Church office or contact Deacon Gary very soon.
Last week I mentioned that I’m interested in getting our Parish Council up and running again. I’ll be quite honest, over the last few months of COVID, it’s been overwhelming trying to pull a large number of things together here at the parish and I need your help. I really need better ways to be able to get input from you, our parishioners, work to help you feel like you have a say in what goes on in your parish, and form committees that can begin to work toward building up our parish. I’d really like to thank our Parish Council Steering Committee who between the beginning of the year and March worked to put together the by-laws that we’ll be using as we reform the council. It was a lot of work, but I think time well spent. I’ll be posting a copy of those by-laws to our website and leaving a few copies in Church for anyone interested.
The council will consist of 10 members who will each serve 3 year terms, and a youth representative who will serve a 1 year term. Six of those members will be elected. We’ll have a jar in the back of Church where we ask individuals to drop nominations in the jar. Once I contact those individuals and confirm that they would be willing to serve, we’ll say a prayer at mass, and draw 6 of those names. The other 5 will be appointed to make sure that, as the by-laws state “Members of the former parishes, residents of the former towns, men, women, and various age groups, of the parish shall be appropriately represented.” I would really like to see this new council represent a good cross-section of our parish.
The regular committees that we’ll start with for the council will be Liturgy, Education, Social, Christian Service, and Maintenance. We’ll ask a member of the council to chair each of those committees, working with those in our parish who are already fulfilling some of those roles, and helping us pull things together as a parish. Hopefully, as time goes on, those committees will each be able to have their own meetings, starting to get those various parts of the parish a little more organized, and to give anyone who wants to be involved a way to help make that happen. I’m planning for the meetings to be public, and to have some procedures for anyone who wants to bring up ideas to share.
It’s not a perfect system, nothing is, but it’s my hope that by at least setting up a structure, there will be meetings that anyone could come to, organizing the upcoming events at our parish. I can understand how in the past the decision-making process may have seemed a little secretive. That’s never been my intention, but until we could get committees organized, particularly when we were all shut down and stuck at home, I was left making most of those decisions on my own in the dark.
So I’d ask you again, please keep thinking about individuals who you think would be good to serve on that sort of Parish Council. As a parish, there’s lots to be done, and many areas that I know many of you are passionate about. Let’s work together to build up rather than tear down. Perhaps you know someone who would be a great representative on Parish Council because of a specific area, or might represent a certain group in the parish well. Maybe you know someone who might not want to serve on parish council, but would be interested in helping on one of those committees. I’d love to see as many people involved as we can, working together to build up the kingdom of God.
Finally, our Financial Reports are pretty much completed at this point. I’m hoping to designate Sunday Sept 26-27th as our “Stewardship Weekend” when instead of a homily, I’ll share our financial status as a parish, and a bit of an annual “State of the Parish” update. I’ll try to keep things as straightforward as I can on those days, but I’ll distribute our financial reports to the parish on those masses, and probably give an online video going into more detail for those who love details.
God Bless You Now and Always
- Fr Matt
I want to say a big thank you this week to Sister Karen. We just finished our parent meetings this week, and I was joking with her that we’re trying to do 3 months of work in about a month. I’m pleased to say that for the most part things seem to be going well on the religious education front. It’s going to be a bit different than in years past, but well, everything this year is already quite a bit different than any time that I think any of us have ever known. I know change is hard, but as we move forward, it’s good to hear a little bit of excitement starting to build. I’m ever so thankful to both our families and our catechists for working with us to keep teaching our children and young people the faith and making sure that Jesus is a priority especially in times when it feels like everything is changing.
I’m also happy to say that our State Prison Chaplain’s conference went very well this week. We had some wonderful speakers, and I know I learned a great deal. It’s a blessing to be able to live out one of the corporal works of mercy that Jesus gives us and be able to visit those in prison. It was also a blessing to be able to work with a group of really caring and invested chaplains who worked very hard to plan the conference. Thank you for your prayers this week.
This Monday we celebrate Labor Day, one of the American Holidays that our Church played an enormous role in creating: a commemoration of the dignity of work and the average worker. In the late 1891, Pope Leo XII wrote an encyclical that shook the world, Rerum Novarrum, on the Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor. That encyclical formed what would later be called our Catholic Social Teaching. Just to give an idea of the impact, later Popes would write 14 more encyclical following up on what Pope Leo XIII taught, three of those were simply named the 40th, 80th, and 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarrum. It’s an amazing document that lays out what we believe as Catholics about the dignity of human beings, the dignity of work, and that document helped change the face of work in the world forever. What’s amazing is, even though updates were given since, even 129 years later, if you read it now, we can hear these same issues being talked about and debated in the news. It’s very easily available online and it’s well worth your time to read.
As I was thinking about that, and as we start to get things up and running for the fall, it got me thinking of all the things that we beginning to happen in March just before we got shut down. Coming off an experience working with a wonderful committee, I look around here at the next few months in our Church, and realize that we’re going to have to make some serious plans for the future. I don’t know what the future will bring any more than you do. What I do know is that we’ve got a lot of things going on here at our Church and I really need your help as we look forward to the next few months and years. Back in March we had formed a Steering Committee to reconstitute our Parish Council. That group had just finished all the by-laws, and we had been just about ready to publish those by-laws and put out the call to ask for nominations to get it up and running again.
Obviously, a few realities have changed since March. I’d really like this council to be both representative of the parish, able to really help everyone feel like they have a say in some of the directions our parish is going, and be people capable of leading committees who can work to figure out good ways to not just keep our parish running, but to help our parish grow into an ever more excited and faithful group of Catholics.
So with that in mind, for now, I’d just ask you to start thinking about capable, faithful people in our parish who, if they were running a committee, you would be willing to work with and help. Perhaps it’s someone who is already active. Perhaps it’s someone who hasn’t had a leadership role in the past, but you think would do well. As we look forward to the fall, realizing what we went through in March and April, members of council will need to be willing and able to meet virtually in case that becomes a need. We’ll have nominations soon, but for now I just want to give you a few weeks to really think about names. Talk to each other. Ask each other what you’d like to see at our parish and who would be a good person to represent that interest who you would be willing to help if they asked you. I don’t want people who are simply going to say “This is what I think we need”. I want to find people willing to say “This is what I think we need, and I’ll organize it, will you help me?” So I’d ask each of you. Start to think about it, pray about it. I’ll share more details in the upcoming weeks on how the initial nominations will work. But for now, I just want us all to start thinking seriously about not just what you’d like to see at our parish, but who would be good on a parish council to help actually make it happen.
Please know that you're always in my prayers.
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.