A little more than a year ago, Brian Collins arrived at St. Joan of Arc Parish, Nashotah, after spending his entire life in Illinois. From the day he arrived, he’s changed things for the parish.
As one of the youngest parish business managers, at age 29, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Collins is familiar with the finances of a typical parish.
“When I was in Chicago, we were working with churches struggling to keep the lights on,” he said. “You had to be very creative with how you manage bills.”
Collins worked for a group called Parish Operations, which helped poor parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago manage their finances.
“I think parishes at times they plan day to day, year to year. We need to do five-year, 10-year, 20-year plans to make sure we sustain and keep growing,” Collins said.
In 2007, before coming to Wisconsin, Collins graduated from DePaul University with a degree in accounting. He went straight into the corporate world, working for McDonald’s front office doing financial consulting work.
He even worked at a restaurant for a year.
“I like to say it ‘toughened me up,’” Collins said. “It toughened me up. You’re working overnights … not getting home until 6 in the morning. Because that’s the quiet time to get stuff done.”
But life in the private sector wasn’t fulfilling.
“You’re doing a lot of the same things over and over,” he said, adding he would work 50-hour weeks “sitting in front of a computer.”
At St. Joan of Arc, it’s different.
“Being here, you can make a difference,” Collins said. “That’s what I’ve always looked for in a career.”
He’s also the business manager for St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Mapleton. Juggling the two parishes can be a daunting job, but his previous parish experience and fine organization on the part of the previous manager helped with the transition.
“Luckily, the previous business manager left a really good paper trail,” Collins said. “So that’s always a great thing when you come into a new position.”
Since coming to Wisconsin, the volunteers and employees he’s worked with have made a huge impression on him.
“I’ve worked with a lot of schools,” Collins said. “I’ve never seen a staff and a principal (work) as well as (at St. Joan of Arc), how they work together, it’s just an incredible thing to see.”
Those he’s worked with have noticed his drive to be the best at his job.
“He’s very passionate about his work and our Catholic church and school community,” said Holly Cerveny, principal of St. Joan of Arc School. “We’re very blessed to have him as part of our family here.”
Cerveny said he’s “super” hard working and “puts in whatever hours are needed,” to help the school and parish.
Collins said the environment motivates him and allows for more casual interactions between coworkers — something that isn’t as available in most corporate settings.
As a Chicago Bears fan in Packer country, Collins said he’s had a lot of fun with his colleagues.
“For my birthday this year (the staff) decorated my office in Packers’ colors and Aaron Rodgers pictures, so they got me pretty good,” he said. “But I get them back, too.” At the time, he reminded his coworkers, the Bears were 1-0 against the Packers.
This type of office entertainment is something Collins enjoys.
“Corporate, probably a little more competitiveness so it’s a little more serious type of setting,” he said. “Here you can build a relationship and be friendly and have fun with each other.”
Collins helps the school in other ways than just keeping track of the money.
“We play a student and staff volleyball game with the eighth graders and he joins our staff team in that game,” Cerveny said. “He fits in right with everyone else.”
Along with his work as a business manager, Collins has also volunteered as St. Joan of Arc athletic director.
“It’s almost like a different language,” he said. “It’s another good learning experience.”
In Illinois, Collins played basketball, baseball, golf and over the summer was part of a 12-inch softball league.
According to Collins, the sixth grade girls’ volleyball team is one of the best teams at the school. They went undefeated this past season.
“They’re a very, very good team,” he said.
Putting his time toward improving the school and parish has been noticed by many of the staff.
Cerveny said his volunteering makes a difference.
“We didn’t have quite that involvement that we have from Brian,” Cerveny said. “It’s those little extra things.
Wanting to play in that volleyball game. Wanting to volunteer as the athletic director and really get involved in the entire picture of this parish and school community. That makes him have that something different.”
He’s careful to keep his roles as a business manager and athletic director separate.
“From the get-go he set guidelines and boundaries of what he was going to be able to accomplish for each role,” Cerveny said.
“He wants to make sure that since he’s the business manager on one end he’s not handling the money for the athletics committee to make sure there’s checks-and-balances in place.”
And when he’s got time, Collins helps staff members with problems in information technology.
“I do consider myself real good in IT so it’s real rewarding to help staff and teach staff,” he said. “To me, it’s great when someone has an Excel question and you’re able to not just help them, but train them how to do it. And let them drive.”