The conversation came up naturally over breakfast one morning last week. Cory Howat, the new director of stewardship for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and his wife Molly were discussing ways they might be able to increase their gift-giving as a Catholic couple with two young children.
Certainly, Howat and his wife have had more than a passing interest in stewardship and giving. Howat is nearly finished a master’s degree program at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in philanthropy and development, which has emphasized the connection between the Catholic faith and giving back to God.
And Howat’s work history is tied to several Catholic entities such as Boys Hope Girls Hope, Archbishop Rummel High School and Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana.
“The (master’s degree) program has really helped jump-start our own personal journey and conversation,” said Howat, 37. “How can we as a family give back more? This conversation specifically talked about money, but we’ve also talked about going to a nursing home (for visits). Molly is going to be on the pastoral council at St. Clement of Rome. This is a personal journey, and we’re called to listen to where God is calling us. This is not a reaction – it’s an action.”
Howat will work with Peter Quirk, director of development, to nurture the concept of stewardship among local Catholics and parishes.
“All gifts flow from God,” Howat said.
A major misconception regarding stewardship, he said, is that it is simply a way to raise more money for a parish. While fund-raising techniques have become more refined – including new ways to thank donors for their gifts – Howat said a parish well-grounded in spiritually feeding its parishioners will create a fertile soil for “a more generous community in talents and finances and in every aspect.”
Howat and Quirk are creating a plan that will rely on the experiences of several parishes that have encouraged parishioners to embrace stewardship. It is not so much giving to a need but creating a need to give.
“I think the former mentality just included a relationship where you had this obligation and just gave and there wasn’t as much reciprocation there,” Howat said. “Now, it’s more of a relational piece. I know there is an obligation, but yet on multiple levels the church is able to foster that relationship with the individual so there is more ownership by the community. It’s not dropping $10 in the basket and walking away. That’s important, but it’s not ownership.
“We are confident that this is a positive way forward. We need to spread the good news that this can become a sustaining way for the future church to move forward.”
Howat said one gauge of success will be a parish consistently embracing stewardship and helping parishes that might be struggling financially see “quick rewards from some very basic ways of connecting with their parishioners, and vice versa.”
“There are basic ways that parishioners can feel a deeper connection with the parish,” Howat said. “The hospitality and welcoming of a church is of utmost importance because what that does is connect a person to the community. Most of the time, personal connection to a community means ownership. It comes down to conversion and seeing that these gifts truly are from God – and how do we respond to that?”
Quirk said in addition to sharing more information with parishes about the principles of stewardship, the office will create an archdiocesan stewardship council of priests who have used good stewardship practices.
“Our challenge is to get the council in place so they can begin to lay out a specific program of prayer and cultivation of ministries and eventually a comprehensive stewardship plan,” Quirk said.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarion herald.org.