MENOMONEE FALLS – Sixteen years ago, Bishop John J. McRaith, then head of the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., and a member of the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee on stewardship said of “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” the pastoral letter they were writing, “Once one chooses to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, stewardship is not an option.”

While Bishop McRaith’s words have not been embraced by Catholics nationwide, they have taken root at St. Mary Parish. According to Fr. Gregory Greiten, pastor of St. Mary, the commitment to stewardship he and parishioners at the 1,500-unit parish have made centers on one question.

“How do we visibly transform our hearts and inscribe them with what it means to live Jesus?” the priest said.

That transformation began in 2002 when Fr. Greiten, at the recommendation of parish director of administrative services Gayle Rzany, attended the International Catholic Stewardship Conference.

“I got to meet with people from all over the world who are just passionate about their work. That’s what got me more and more involved,” he said.

He is a regular attendee at ICSC annual meetings, and this past October made a presentation titled “Assessing Your Stewardship Efforts” in which he detailed the impact of stewardship at St. Mary.

In 2003, Fr. Greiten and members of the parish council were trying to rewrite what he termed a “lengthy” parish mission statement. He recalled when the focus on brevity occurred.

“I still remember this clearly. John Vite was one of our council members at the time. His comment was, ‘Isn’t there something very simple like live Jesus?’”

That comment led Fr. Greiten to the works of St. Francis de Sales and the thematic approach that has been the foundation of the parish’s stewardship effort.

In 2007-2008, the theme was “Living Jesus with hearts on fire.” In 2008-2009, the parish is focused on another de Sales’ axiom: “Inscribe Jesus on your hearts.”

More than a slogan, the words permeate the entire parish community, including the school and faith formation program.

“There isn’t a kid or parishioner around here who can’t talk to you about ‘Live Jesus,’ Fr. Greiten said. “It shows up in service, work, prayer life and family life.”

Referring to the process as “constantly planting seeds,” Fr. Greiten said one of the goals is to get people involved in the life of their parish.

“I want every parishioner involved in one ministry,” he said. “Even if you can’t do anything else, you can pray for the parish, so we get people on prayer lists, praying for other people. We’re growing it (stewardship) in that realm.”

Heeding the call

Stephanie Dailey is an example of the connection and inspiration Fr. Greiten hopes people embracing a steward’s life will have.
“My heart wasn’t really being transformed by Jesus,” said the married mother of four boys.

She credits her change of heart to a member of the parish’s Elizabeth Ministry who reached out to her more than three years ago.
“She really connected to me,” Dailey said. “I really took a more active part in my faith after that.”

Part of the commitment Dailey has made is recruiting school parents to write how they are living out the covenant. Their writing appears in the “covenant corner” of the school’s weekly electronic newsletter. She also highlights a ministry, e.g., human concerns, each month and features an aspect of it in the weekly parish bulletin.

“These are people who were living out the covenant,” she said of those who write and who are featured. “We highlight and celebrate what they are doing.

“My big concern is what do we do next? How do we keep it alive? Too many times a great concept flops because it was not made visible,” she said.

Stewardship has become a way of life for the Dailey family – Stephanie, husband Joe, and their four boys. When a couple of their sons brought ministry guides home from school, the family decided to be greeters at Mass.

“It was the coldest day of winter,” Dailey recalled of that day in 2008. “But it was a wonderful experience. The smiles we received from people walking into church were very rewarding.”

Part of the commitment Dailey has made is recruiting school parents to write how they are living out the covenant. Their writing appears in the “covenant corner” of the school’s weekly electronic newsletter. She also highlights a ministry, e.g., human concerns, each month and features an aspect of it in the weekly parish bulletin.

“We highlight and celebrate what they are doing,” Dailey said.

Calling time and talent “the heart of the covenant,” Dailey said that much of her emphasis is on “finding small ways to engage people.”

Stewardship not synonymous with money

Treasure, along with time and talent, is part of the stewardship tripod, but it is not the entire story, according to Fr. Greiten. He reminds parishioners that the financial aspect is part of the stewardship process.

“When you begin to see everything we have as gifts from God, and when you are thankful for what you have been given, your response is, ‘What return can I make?’ Your response is, ‘Thank you,’” Fr. Greiten said.

He has told his parish’s finance council not to expect immediate results in the monetary realm.

“We have never tied the stewardship person to raising so much money for the parish,” he said. “If that’s what you are looking for, well, this is not a development person who has to raise so much money. It’s constantly planting seeds.”

His experience over the last six years has taught Fr. Greiten that engaging people in the life of the parish will provide tangible results.

“It’s about participation. How do you get people participating and how do they find meaningful involvement?” he said. “If they are meaningfully involved in the parish, they will make the return.”

Rooted in prayer

Attendees of Mass at St. Mary can expect to hear the call to stewardship in a homily, in prayers of the faithful, or both.

“Our message is we want you to be a part of us; we want you to pray with us. We want you to offer your heart to the Lord,” Fr. Greiten said. “Without prayer, you’re not going anywhere. That has been essential to making it (conversion to stewardship) happen.”

Rosemary Murphy, a stewardship consultant to the parish in 2008, lauded the priest for making the liturgical connection.

“It’s not like the pastor talked once about time and talent,” she said. “People are finding St. Mary’s is their spiritual home. That’s the conversion. It’s not just my church activities. This is my spiritual home.”

For Dailey, the stewardship commitment is rooted in the Eucharist.

“That’s what I come to Mass for – the grounding, the fullness of faith in the Eucharist,” she said. “That’s why I’m Catholic; that’s what keeps me in the Catholic Church.”

Eventually, a harvest

Fr. Greiten can demonstrate the quantitative impact introducing stewardship has had on St. Mary Parish – involvement of families from the school and faith formation program in parish life, increase in people involved in ministries, and a spike in financial contributions. But he also cited “subtle efforts” – people who devote more time to prayer and to their families.

“So many remarkable things have happened over this – when you are willing to embrace and live your faith and truly live Jesus,” he said. “I marvel at St. Francis de Sales. He had it absolutely right: If we just inscribe Jesus on our heart, amazing things are going to happen.”

As for its long-term effect, Fr. Greiten is confident.

“All the conversion of heart; that’s where you’re going to see it,” he said.