St. Margaret’s parish in Midland, Ont., is like many rural Ontario parishes in that it needs to look at creative ways to make ends meet. Pastor Fr. Jim McLenaghen is looking at ways to keep a Catholic presence in the pictureque town. Register file photo

Bequests a good way to thank parish that shaped you

By  Mickey Conlon, Catholic Register Special
  • November 4, 2016

A Catholic parish is not unlike your household: there are bills to pay and only so many dollars available to keep operations running smoothly.

And like any household, it can take some fancy accounting for a parish to keep its head above water.

It’s a dilemma faced by many parishes, but perhaps none so much as a small rural parish — like St. Margaret’s in Midland, Ont., in the far northern reaches of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Fr. Jim McLenaghen knows life in rural Ontario all too well. He has served St. Margaret’s for the past seven years, and for the previous nine years was in Collingwood, Ont., about an hour’s drive to the southwest.

Located in the picturesque town on the shores of Georgian Bay, with its long Catholic history — the church is mere minutes away from the Martyrs’ Shrine that commemorates the Jesuit martyrs who were slain while ministering to the local Huron nation in the 1600s — St. Margaret’s has to look for creative ways to make ends meet for a large church in a small town. The offertory can only go so far, he said.

McLenaghen and his finance council are looking to create a policy surrounding bequests to the parish that will help alleviate future financial issues for the parish with a small, aging congregation.

“We want to keep a good Catholic presence in the community,” said McLenaghen.

“To ensure the future, let’s build up a fund to make that happen.”

The pastor even has a name for the plan — “One Last Tithe” — he and the finance council are considering.

The idea is to build a bequest fund, asking parishioners to remember St. Margaret’s in their Wills. The money would be put in the fund and returns on the investment would help cover costs to run the parish.

“What better way, the last thing you do… is remember your church, where you grew up, were married,” he said.

The parish recently received a bequest from one of its long-time parishioners, who left slightly more than $81,000 to St. Margaret’s. The donor (the parish requested that his name not be revealed) was a faithful parishioner who in his later years became even more attached to the parish and was known to parishioners as always being among the first to greet them when they attended Mass. St. Margaret’s was such an important part of his life that he wanted to make sure he gave back.

While a one-time infusion of $81,000 can go a long way in a small parish, McLenaghen is thinking more long term. Some of the donation went to cover operating costs — it costs about $5,600 weekly to run St. Margaret’s — while the rest is being set aside for the future.

“Going forward, if we’re going to encourage people to give,” he said, it has to be for something different.

“I don’t believe in frittering it away on day-to-day operations,” he said. “It should be set aside for special projects.”

It’s a very “doable” plan, said McLenaghen, and one that every congregation is going to have to come to grips with at some point, particularly in the reality of small-town Ontario where populations are aging and for many, like Midland, the only industry of note in town is government services. He said many Protestant congregations have survived this way as the numbers in their pews have declined.

McLenaghen can’t stress enough the importance of remembering the church that helped shape you over a lifetime.

“It’s one last gift to your church,” he said.

(Conlon is a freelance writer in Regina, Sask.)

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