Faith in business: It takes a lot of work to keep parish vibrant

ABOVE: Parish Office Manager Terri Panuccio works in her office.


St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish is renowned throughout the diocese and beyond for its meaningful liturgies, profound Holy Week services, beautiful celebrations at Christmas and Easter, a glorious music ministry, and a very welcoming and compassionate community of worshipers.

And yet, none of that would be possible, or even exist, without another important part of the parish — the business side.

While throughout the last several decades many parishes have closed, Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament has remained vibrant, not only religiously, but through careful management of resources.

Father Jim Cesta has been pastor since July 2009. He acknowledges the importance of keeping a parish fiscally viable.

“If you as a pastor — with a core team and provide helpful worship services — money and support will happen,” he said. “Every pastor is part beggar. If the parish is providing the best possible (faith experiences), people are generous.”

Father Jim said stewardship is critical in the life of a parish.

“It goes with discipleship — following the Lord,” he said. “It’s two sides of the same coin.”

Here’s an idea of how our parish remains anchored in the turbulent religious sea.

In fiscal year 2021-22, the parish had a total regular gross income of $482,685.80. That was offset by expenditures of $480,323.70 — leaving a net income of $2,362.10.

But thanks to the generosity of bequests from people and wise investments, the parish saw a total net income of $85,531.24. (A detailed report is found on the parish website.)

We’re in the black. Other parishes are seeing red.

Running the parish office

Father Jim said it’s important “to have a competent secretary / business manager and a few business advisers.”

When he first arrived at Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament after 12 years as pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in Oswego, MaryBeth LaNeve was parish administrator. When she died in June 2020, Terri Panuccio took over as office manager after helping MaryBeth as a volunteer for several years.

Running the parish office is very complex.

“I’m responsible for facilitating the day-to-day operations of the parish,” said Terri, who also is the K-6 Faith Formation coordinator.

Those duties include:

  • Maintaining accurate financial records and files.
  • Ensuring that bills are paid on time.
  • Manage payroll reporting information.
  • Ensure the parish is compliant with all tax and insurance responsibilities.
  • Placing orders for whatever the parish needs, such as wine, hosts, Prayer Remembrance cards, etc.
  • Managing and coordinating the church’s schedule of events, including baptisms, weddings and funerals; festival or social events that might require use of the Scalabrini Center; coordinating meetings for the Buildings and Grounds and Finance committees.
  • Assist with the bulletin by typing Prayer Remembrance and memorials, and give financial information as needed.
  • Attend quarterly diocesan business administrator meetings as well as Parish Council meetings.

“Running a parish office is extremely important,” Terri said. “Honestly, I didn’t realize all that is involved because when I started, COVID had pretty much stopped everything, and we didn’t have the feast or even Masses at that time so there wasn’t as much to do. Once everything started coming back again, so did all the work that goes along with it. I think the parish office is like a central processing unit and is what makes the parish function. While everyone has a specific job they do, the office ties it all together.

Personal touch important

In addition to all the work, the personal touch is crucial.

“It’s also important because I am the person someone sees when they come into the office or talks to when they call on the phone, so I feel there is also a hospitality aspect involved,” Terri said. “I have received phone calls from people just needing to talk to someone, and if Father Cesta isn’t available, I try to help.

“I also get calls from grieving family members and elderly women who are lonely and oftentimes just need to hear another person’s voice,” she said. “I try to be attentive and compassionate to each person and let them know that I, as well as our entire parish, care about them. I also have a woman who comes in regularly asking for help to explain her Social Security and Medicare benefits and bills to her. Because of this, it’s important to create a loving and welcoming environment for all who enter the parish office.”

Volunteers are crucial

Terri has two volunteers who help in the office: Carol Trinco on Mondays and Bev Franz on Thursdays.

“(Volunteers) are critically important,” Father Jim said. “A parish dies or closes when they are missing.”

Terri knows firsthand that’s true.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of our parish, and we depend on them more than just for helping out in the office,” she said. “We have volunteer teams who rotate to count the collection every week; volunteers who help to clean and maintain the church and parish center; volunteers who form our Buildings and Grounds Committee, Finance Committee, Parish Council and trustees. Volunteers play an important part in our liturgies, such as our Music Ministry, sacristans, greeters, lectors, ushers, eucharistic ministers, altar servers, those who wash and iron our church linens and help to decorate and clean our church. Volunteers who are catechists and teach our faith to the young children and teens in our parish as well as all the volunteers who work our parish festival and other social events.

“Our parish has only four employees, plus Father Cesta, so we could never be as successful and vibrant as a faith community without all the wonderful men, women, teens and youths who give of their time and talent to help make our parish what it is,” Terri said.

Looking to the future

As far as the future of the parish, it is solid, though Father Jim does have a concern and hope.

“As with all Catholic / Christian communities, those under 50 years old who are having a crisis of faith or who don’t practice the faith (is a worry),” he said. “Although we’re not in a suburban setting, hopefully (the future has) an increase in the under 50-year-olds. Let the quality of worship and welcoming spirit attract that age group.”

Terri said she gets a lot of satisfaction from her job.

“I often think about my grandparents and parents, especially my grandmother and mother, who loved our church so much,” she said. “The shrine parking lot was once part of their backyard! To be able to work in a place that meant so much to them, and a place where I have so many wonderful memories, is truly a blessing. I love hearing the church bells ring every hour and think of everyone who has given so much to our parish. Father Cesta is so easy going and great to work with, plus there is never a day he doesn’t make me laugh!”