A campaign to renovate Windsor, Ont.’s historic Our Lady of the Assumption Church has hit a snag with the dismissal of the company charged with raising the funds for the project. Register file photo

Assumption fundraising board resigns amidst financial questions

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • July 17, 2012

WINDSOR, ONT. - The diocese of London will conduct a financial audit of the work of a private company that spearheaded a 10-year national fundraising campaign to renovate this city’s historic Our Lady of Assumption Church.

The church dates from 1847 and belongs to the oldest parish in Canada west of Montreal. But severe deterioration required extensive repairs to various structural parts of the church including the roof, walls and electrical system.

The diocese hired Philanthropic Management Consultants (PMC) Inc. in 2009 to organize the fundraising campaign, which sought $9.6 million in an effort that went beyond Windsor and solicited contributions from across the country. Meanwhile a high profile volunteer board was put in place that included local residents but also people with Windsor ties such as Richard Peddie, former president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and former Prime Minister Paul Martin, who was born here.

The diocese severed ties with PMC in February stating it was “not satisfied with the results achieved so far” but would “continue to build on what has been done.”

It gave PMC 120 days to submit a final report, including financial statements, which the local company delivered in late June. At the same time the volunteer board submitted its resignation with statements of support for PMC. It also called on Bishop Ronald Fabbro, chair of the foundation overseeing the campaign, to “contact donors to determine the intention and direction of their gifts” as well as to provide a “statement as to the future plans” for Assumption.

According to financial statements, some $2.6 million in gifts and pledges had been made, with more than $520,000 already spent on studies as well as actual repairs, such as removing asbestos, repointing loose brick and installing a new heating system.

But the Assumption Heritage Trust Foundation envisioned an entire revamp of the church site, including a new “destination” entranceway, a heritage centre and public gardens, to underline the importance of this “mother church” of the community.

Diocesan spokesman Mark Adkinson said the diocese will use PricewaterhouseCoopers, the same firm that prepared the financial statements, to do a full audit.

“We want an audit dome of PMC’s financial records,” Adkinson said. “We weren’t satisfied with the results. We just want to get a full understanding of what was raised and what was spent.”

Adkinson emphasized that the diocese ended its relationship with PMC and its principals John LaFramboise and Jo-Anne Mancini, and not the board, and it was “grateful for all the work” the board did.

Asked if it was odd that the same company which prepared the statements would now be auditing the books, Adkinson said PricewaterhouseCoopers is “familiar with the finances to begin with” and that the company’s role would be “different” from what it did previously.

LaFramboise, a longtime professional fundraiser with an extensive client list in Canada and the United States, called this “somewhat ridiculous because they’re the ones who prepared the statements.” He also said the bishop and diocese were kept fully abreast of the finances since the campaign began.

LaFramboise said PMC and board members are bewildered by the diocese’s actions and lack of information about where the project goes from here.

“No one knows,” he said. “Everyone’s been asking that question since they took the action in February. That’s why the board resigned.”

LaFramboise, who described himself as an “Assumption boy” who attended nearby Assumption High School and was educated by the Basilian Fathers, who run the parish, said he was not angry but “disappointed. A lot of people in Windsor put their hearts and souls and money into it and everyone still believes in it.”

He suggested board members may return to the project if they are given an indication by the diocese where the campaign is headed next.

But LaFramboise said some $400,000 in pledges has been put on hold or cancelled. One pledge was for $175,000 from the Windsor Essex Community Foundation, which has spearheaded the city’s riverfront restoration. Executive director Glenn Stresman says the organization now has ”no assurances” the new entranceway — for which the funds were earmarked — will go forward. He said the “gateway” would have made an “excellent connection” between the church’s front lawn and the nearby Detroit River.

Adkinson emphasized the decision to cut ties with PMC was not made only at the diocese of London office but was also decided by “the leadership of (Assumption) parish” itself.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, president of Assumption University, located immediately behind the church, who has been integrally involved with the campaign, said he fully supports the diocese.

“Having worked very closely with the Assumption Heritage Trust from the beginning I have very serious concerns about the methods used by PMC,” noting in particular its “unfactual reporting.”

Rosica, who is also CEO of Salt + Light Television, said the diocese has every intention of restoring the church.

“It is imperative that the church be repaired and restored to its natural beauty.”

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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