Building faith through stewardship


An artist’s rendering of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church’s completed campus, including new church building.

Every day, 100 workers descend on the campus of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church for construction of a larger, permanent church and a new school gym for the growing parish in Wichita, Kansas.

The Rev. Dan Spexarth, pastor, said parishioners drive through the parking lot at “1 mile per hour” just so they can get a closer look at the projects taking shape.

“It’s very exciting,’’ Spexarth said.

The parish’s Out of Love for God campaign is funding the projects. The dynamic parish in northwest Wichita partnered with the Steier Group on that successful effort in 2018, raising more than $15.7 million. That followed a 2012 appeal run by the Steier Group that raised nearly $9 million to build the Parish Education Center, which includes the school.

The two fundraising campaigns stand out for the total raised – $24.6 million. Though the figure is eye-catching, the campaigns are excellent examples of the building blocks needed for a successful appeal of any size.

The parish’s stewardship culture fit well with the Steier Group’s personal approach to fundraising. Of the 820 pledges made, nearly 80 percent were by donors who spoke personally with volunteers recruited and trained by the Steier Group.

The parish is part of the Diocese of Wichita, where stewardship is a way of life.

Mike Wescott, director of development and planned giving for the diocese, said St. Catherine of Siena is a wonderful example of a parish where stewardship has taken root.

“St. Catherine of Siena truly embodies stewardship and its pillars of hospitality, prayer, formation and service,’’ Wescott said. “This parish embraces the fullness of stewardship as a way of life. Their recent successful campaigns are just one indication of their love for the Lord and desire to worship Him above all else.”

As a testament to the stewardship way of life and great leadership, the 2018 appeal was even more vibrant than the 2012 campaign – a rare feat for even the most lively of church communities. Donor fatigue was not a factor.

Spexarth said his parishioners not only understand the value of stewardship, they practice it every day.

“Stewardship is giving back to God a portion of what he’s given to us,” he said.

Steve Bird, the Steier Group’s campaign manager for the 2018 effort, said the parish is a tight-knit community and that strong bond, coupled with the spirt of stewardship, produced generous gifts for the campaign.

“There was an overall sense that all have to do their part and pitch in,’’ he said.

Spexarth said both fundraising appeals benefited from having a Steier campaign manager on-site. The managers energized volunteers, he said, and kept the campaigns focused and on schedule. He also praised the Steier Group’s graphic designers and other support staff, along with the firm’s effective and comprehensive communication plans.

Successful campaigns are a partnership, and the parish provided visionary and insightful leadership, dedicated volunteers and a strong culture of stewardship. The parish, which has more than 1,500 families, also organized meaningful events that helped parishioners make a personal connection with the projects.

Bird said the firm’s approach meshed well with the parish’s values and strengths.

“It was a perfect partnership,’’ Bird said. “Hand in hand.”

For example, the Steier Group emphasizes the importance of volunteers. The parish stepped forward with nearly 90 for the most recent campaign, a team that helped with everything from personal appeals to phoning nights to administrative support. Kevin Warneke, the Steier Group’s director of client advancement, said those individuals expressed strong support for moving forward with the new, even more ambitious campaign for the church and gym.

Warneke, who managed the first campaign (2012) and supervised the second, said the generous response – just six years after the earlier campaign – demonstrated the parish’s commitment to stewardship.

Database analysis, clear communications paved way to successful campaigns

Evaluating the parish database was another important step, particularly because the parish was conducting a second campaign not long after the first.

Every parish household’s giving history was examined, paying special attention to gifts made during the previous appeal. Working with parish and volunteer leaders, the Steier Group reviewed available giving records to establish specific gift request amounts for all potential donors.

Effective communications also boosted the campaign. The Steier Group used numerous tools to educate potential donors including an FAQ brochure, case statement, lay testimonials during Mass, bulletin inserts and emails.

The communication emphasized how the new church was needed to provide a spiritual home for generations of Catholics to come.

Spexarth said that message resonated with parishioners because they understand the importance of leaving a legacy for their children and grandchildren.

The communication also stressed that, by building the new gym and church, the parish would achieve the goal of completing the St. Catherine of Siena campus. The parish was established in 2008.

The parish is scheduled to dedicate the gym in November 2019 and the new church in October 2020.

Thoughtful ceremony inspires support

To mark the start of the church construction, Spexarth avoided the traditional groundbreaking ceremony where officials in hard hats dig with gold shovels.

Instead, he wanted a ceremony that would bond all parishioners to their new worship space. So the parish organized what it called a “bringing ground ceremony” last September.

Spexarth asked parishioners to bring soil from their own yard or another place that’s meaningful to them and drop it into the spot below where the new church’s altar will rest.

Some people brought soil from land where their parents grew up. Others brought soil from Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and Siena, Italy, where the church’s namesake was born. One man whose father died during the World War II D-Day invasion brought sand from Omaha Beach.

Bird said that ceremony was just one example of how Spexarth understands his faith community and what is important to his flock.

“It really helped that he was so tapped in and knew the community so well,” Bird said.

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