Catholics learn at a young age that a church building is God’s house. As they grow into adulthood, however, they sometimes forget that God’s houses typically require more resources to run than do the homes of mere mortals.
Several years ago Father John Gagnier had a discussion about that very point with parishioners at St. Dominic Parish in Shortsville, where he was pastor at the time.
"People have to think about their own houses and what it costs to maintain your own house over years," he said. "When I was in Shortsville I asked one time, ‘How many of us in the last 20 years have done something at your house, like replace a furnace or an appliance or do some repairs?’ Nearly every hand went up. What do you think it costs to keep up God’s house?"
It’s not cheap to keep parishes and schools running, added Father Gagnier, who currently is pastor at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Greece. In fact, close inspection of his current parish’s operating budget reveals that it costs $40 per hour — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — to run the parish, he said.
Catholic parishes and schools depend on parishioners for funding, which is why parishioners often are encouraged to be good stewards of their financial resources and to use them to support their churches and schools, remarked Father Edward Palumbos, pastor at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption.
"People are usually astounded to see that most of our income comes from the weekend collections," he said. "Our budget comes from people of faith who know it costs money to live in our world."
Expenses and income
It’s difficult to make generalizations about parishes’ and schools’ biggest expenses and income sources because no two parishes or schools have identical situations or budgets, according to Mary Ziarniak, diocesan director of financial services. One of the biggest factors driving a parish’s budget is its footprint, or the size and number of buildings on its campus or campuses, added Lisa Passero, diocesan chief financial officer.
"(The budget) can vary dramatically depending on the footprint of the parish," she said.
Parishes and schools throughout the Diocese of Rochester are set up in a range of configurations in order to best suit the needs of parishioners in varying urban, rural and suburban locales. Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, for example, maintains worship sites on three campuses, and incorporates St. John Neumann School. Pittsford’s Church of the Transfiguration, meanwhile, has only a church and a parish center, Passero said.
Building maintenance costs — including utility costs — typically accounts for up to 10 percent of a given parish or school’s operating budget, while insurance and other costs can account for another 2 percent to 3 percent, Passero said.
Although it may cost more to maintain a campus with multiple buildings, sometimes the expenses are offset by income generated by those facilities, she added. Some parishes rent out vacant school buildings on their grounds and, in at least one case, such rental income accounts for 80 percent of parish revenue, Passero noted.
Another key budgetary factor is the number of people in the pews or students in the desks, she added. A parish of several thousand households will require a large staff, while a parish with fewer households typically needs fewer personnel. Similarly, a school with a large enrollment often will need to employ more teachers and support staff than does a school with lower enrollment.
Either way, employee salaries and benefits typically account for up to 80 percent of a given parish or school’s expenses, Passero said.
"Certainly our largest expense is salaries and benefits," she said.
While it costs more to staff large parishes, that cost is balanced by greater revenues garnered through weekend collections at such parishes, Ziarniak noted.
"The collections can range from under $100,000 to well over $1 million annually," depending on the parish’s makeup and number of households, Passero said.
Diocesan parishes are asked to contribute a percentage of their offertory income toward support for Catholic education. While this subsidy is an expense for parishes, it’s a source of income for many schools, Passero said. Monroe County parishes that have schools contribute 35 percent of their offertory income to the schools, while Monroe County parishes without schools contribute a set percentage of their offertory collections toward the Monroe County Catholic Schools Subsidy. The diocesan Catholic Schools Office then distributes funds from this subsidy to Monroe County schools that need more funding for financial aid for their students, Passero said.
Subsidies usually account for 20 percent to 70 percent of total income at most Monroe County schools. The remaining income comes from tuition — which can account for 30 percent to 80 percent of income — as well as endowment funds and reimbursements from New York state for mandated services, Passero said. Parishes outside Monroe County also support the Catholic schools in their areas, but the formula for determining subsidy amounts is unique to each situation.
Fundraisers are an annual source of income for many schools, including Irondequoit’s Christ the King School, where a walkathon last fall netted $10,000 and a family fun night last spring garnered $13,000, according to Peggy Bishop, administrative assistant at the school. Christ the King rents its school building from Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, and among other major expenses are such utility costs as heat, telephone and Internet connections. Other less-obvious costs include copier rental and the paper and toner necessary to run the machine, Bishop added, noting that the school’s staff made more than 3,600 copies between mid-summer and late October.
Parishes also have to budget for office supplies and the materials necessary to offer programs and faith-formation classes, Father Palumbos said. Parishes do collect program fees for some of these offerings, but at Assumption those fees do not make up a significant portion of the parish’s income, he said. The parish had a budget of $1.3 million for the fiscal year ending in June 2011, and offertory income accounted for $1.2 million of that budget, he added.
"Less than $200,000 comes from other revenue. The budget comes from people’s commitment to stewardship," Father Palumbos said.
According to diocesan policy, each parish must inform its parishioners about the parish’s financial state at least once a year, and this information usually is printed in the parish bulletin, Ziarniak said. Open and frequent communication about financial issues is encouraged, Passero said, and Father Gagnier said he takes this advice to heart. He and the staff at Holy Name of Jesus include a small financial report in the bulletin each week in order to let parishioners know which bills were paid the previous week.
"I treat the people as shareholders so that they know what it’s costing to run the parish," Father Gagnier said. "The more that you are transparent with people about what it does cost to maintain a church, the more likely they are to contribute because they know where their money is going."
When parishioners are good stewards and take care of their parishes, they allow the parishes to be responsible stewards as well, fulfilling their mission of serving the needy and spreading God’s word, Father Palumbos said.
"You’ve got to keep the roof from leaking and the electricity paid, but all that is towards the purpose of serving the community," he said.