Father Stephen Jones, director of stewardship for the diocese, is chairman of the newly convened Diocesan Stewardship Council. Patricia Lutz, associate stewardship director, is the recording secretary.
Fr. Jones, who has been serving in this role for three years, spoke to the council about aspects of the stewardship renewal in the diocese that are already familiar.
“The fact is, this is not something new,” he noted. “We’re building on our heritage. We’re building on what previous generations have known and done and we’re taking it to the fullness in this new spiritual stewardship way of life.”
He pointed out that the late Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, who led the Jefferson City diocese from 1969-97, was a close friend of the late Bishop Eugene Gerber, who led the Wichita diocese from 1982-2001 and helped implement many of Msgr. McGread’s ideas throughout that diocese.
In 1983, Bishop McAuliffe followed Bishop Gerber’s lead and declared that all parish grade schools in the Jefferson City diocese would be tuition-free for parishioners who participate in the sacrificial life of the parish and help support it financially.
“That is to say, the ministry of forming and educating children in the parish schools was to be supported by the parish,” said Fr. Jones.
It was a radical approach and drew skepticism both in this and nearby dioceses.
However, “some years later, those dioceses started coming to us and saying, ‘How can we do this?’” Fr. Jones, noted, “because it actually worked.”
He noted that the Catholic school enrollment in this diocese is nearly double that of another diocese he’s familiar with that has many times more Catholics.
“The difference is stewardship — that our parishes and our diocese and our bishops have put an emphasis and priority on the ministry of Catholic education in our schools,” he said.
He cautioned that it would be wrong to equate the way parishes in the diocese have been funding their schools for the past four decades and the entirety of the stewardship way of life.
“But they are intrinsically tied together,” he said. “And that’s how our diocese has lived out its stewardship walk up to this point.”
Later on, several parishes in the diocese convened parish stewardship councils in order to promote stewardship in all aspects of parish life, and several parishes adopted a tithing model of funding national collections and its support for the work of the diocese.
Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos hired Jane Rutter, who as diocesan director of stewardship from 2000 to 2015, worked to promote the spirituality and practical application of stewardship in the parishes.
“That is, the call to discipleship, the response of a disciple, and stewardship being the fulfillment of the Second Vatican Council, how we live that out together,” said Fr. Jones.
“Now, it’s time to take that step and to really, really focus on that spiritual element, which is why Bishop McKnight appointed me to be director of stewardship,” Fr. Jones continued.
The office of stewardship is meant to foster the spirituality of stewardship in parishes and among the priests, deacons and all the faithful of the diocese.
“One of our biggest opportunities for renewing the Church is from the grassroots,” said Fr. Jones. “If we want to see the Church return to its former level of impact, it’s time to change things up. Stewardship means getting back to the ancient Christian roots presented to us in the Gospels.”
As of July 1 of this year, every parish in the diocese has changed over to the tithing model of supporting itself and the diocese, with parishioners being encouraged to add the money they previously contributed each year to the Catholic Stewardship Appeal and the various national collections, to their regular offertory contributions to their parishes.
The Catholic Stewardship Appeal, which was an annual diocesan solicitation to fund diocesan ministries, is now a parish-based Catholic Stewardship Renewal (CSR), encouraging everyone to pray and make a sacrificial pledge of time, talent and treasure to their parishes.
Mrs. Lutz noted that the CSR is intended to be a spiritual experience for all parishioners.
“We’re asking everyone to pray and think about your commitment and ‘What are your gifts you want to give back to God and share with everyone?’” she said.
Fr. Jones noted that the diocese has made great progress toward building up an administrative apparatus for promoting stewardship throughout the local Church.
“But as Bishop McKnight often reminds us, the real work is just beginning,” he said.
“Now, it becomes even more about the conversion of hearts and minds to the goal and spirituality of what it means to be a Christian disciple, to recognize and receive God’s gifts and share those gifts in love with God and neighbor,” he stated. “We have decades of that ahead of us.”