Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Recently, the Associated Press published an article about the Catholic Church in the US receiving loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, indicating that the Church had received roughly $1.4 billion in assistance. The tone of the article was negative. The AP (correctly, and fairly) cited the fact that the Church has paid a great deal in settlements and that financial problems are our own fault. However, it seems the authors of the article have bought into the extremely unfair myth that the Church has bottomless financial resources and that accepting funds from this government program is little more than money-grubbing clerics trying to maintain institutional wealth. While numerous bishops have noted flaws in the AP’s reporting on this issue, I would like to note just a few and explain, in the interest of transparency, how St. Pius X has benefitted from the Paycheck Protection Program.
It is important to note that the Paycheck Protection Program consists of loans to businesses that can cover up to 90 days of payroll and business expenses. The loans can be forgiven, though the recipient must pay the loan interest. In order for the loan to be forgiven, documentation of how the funds were used must be provided according to very strict parameters. The intention is to help businesses keep people employed for as long as possible during a financial crisis, and to help businesses themselves stay afloat when their ability to function is severely hampered by the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The AP conveniently ignored the fact that the Catholic Church in the US employs thousands of people and those employees are most often involved in education and social services. When Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, charities, and other organizations receive funds from the PPP, essential work in service to those most in need, to students, and to many others can continue. Now, we could debate the relative merits of the Church accepting funds from the government, but that is a separate issue. In this particular case, government funds have gone to help keep thousands of people employed and many more thousands served by the Church’s various ministries and good works. The AP report glossed all this and forgot the reason for the PPP’s existence.
Let’s bring this closer to home. We at St. Pius X received assistance from this loan program. Because of this financial help, we were able to continue paying our staff through the worst of the quarantine. We did not lose a single employee, nor did we have to furlough anyone. Our staff continued to work, largely from home, though they also came to the office regularly. Because they were still working, we were able to make adjustments to the end of our sacramental preparation year so that our students could continue learning from home. When public Masses were once again allowed, because our staff was working, we were ready to invite our second graders to receive their First Holy Communion in a timely fashion. Because our staff remained on call and at the ready, we were able to make plans for the next sacramental preparation year, including researching numerous online resources that we can make available to families. I am grateful to Kara Clegg, who wrapped up the year and her time as coordinator of First Communion preparation under such challenging circumstances and who never stopped giving of herself. Though she is no longer in our faith formation office, Kara is staying with us at the front desk of the office! I am grateful also to Shari Garcia, who helped our Confirmation students and families to continue their formation and who has taken over the entire sacramental preparation effort in the parish. Her hard work examining available resources and keeping tabs on developments in the effort to reopen schools has enabled us to prepare an exciting, dynamic, innovative, and safe approach to faith formation and sacramental preparation in the new academic year.
In addition to these important efforts, I want to call attention to the work done by our office administrator, Terri Dawes, who was in the office regularly throughout the quarantine, ensuring that our bills were paid on time, our payroll handled correctly, and countless other administrative details were taken care of. Our business manager, Kim Leon, worked hard to keep our expenses down and helped us handle each and every curveball that came our way. Our day-to-day maintenance on campus is handled by Sandro Camargo, who is here every day making sure our buildings are cared for, even when not in use at their normal capacity. He has taken special care to do daily sanitizing of our highest traffic areas. Throughout the quarantine, our church, Faith Center, and Chapel were cleaned every week by a dedicated crew to ensure that our facilities would always be as safe as possible for anyone who comes through our doors.
In other ministries, I must point to the hard work of Mike Lantowski, our organist and music director, who made sure that we had sacred music at Sunday Masses, even when we could not have a congregation. Holy Week felt a bit more like Holy Week thanks to his efforts. He continues to dive into the Church’s treasury of liturgical music to find the most suitable pieces for this time when congregational singing is not possible. Our pastoral assistant, Kathy Donnelly, has spent much of the quarantine helping our newest Catholics, those received into the Church a few weeks ago, prepare through the RCIA process. She has also made countless calls to parishioners, especially the homebound, and has managed a constantly-shifting calendar of baptisms as families make adjustments due to coronavirus restrictions. Paola Peña, our youth minister, not only helped create our Ask Father Sam videos, but has also gone above and beyond to stay in contact with our high school and middle school youth, and now that quarantine has lifted a bit, has organized weekly, outdoor, socially distanced, gatherings for our young people. She continues to implement a vision of shared, unified Catholic youth ministry in Fairfield, even as the number of youth ministers working in other parishes has declined, leaving her as the sole full-time Catholic youth minister in town. And if that isn’t enough, Paola has also begun working to establish young adult ministry here.
All of this is possible, in part, because we received assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program. We have been able to keep our staff at work, which in turn has allowed them to prepare for reopening in an effective manner. In part, this is possible because YOU, the members of this parish, have been incredibly generous. After the first month of quarantine, we saw a substantial increase in the total number of online givers. Many of you took the time to mail your weekly envelops in, which has very much kept us going. So many of you have volunteered your time and energy to help us organize our outdoor Masses, to usher and sanitize at our indoor Masses, and to give your advice and expertise so that we can adapt to changed and challenging circumstances. I am so grateful. In the end, as much as the day-to-day operations of a parish can seem like a business, the whole purpose has nothing to do with profit margins. Everything here is geared to the salvation of souls and the sanctification of our community. It seems odd, but the government has helped us keep that missionary focus with the Paycheck Protection Program. These are strange times, indeed, so let us keep our eyes fixed on the most important goal of all, our entrance into God’s heavenly kingdom!