What is a diocese?
Catholic education, Catholic Charities, development, communications, human resources, finance.
Diocesan tribunal, chancellor, information technology, pro-life activities, cultural ministries, Catholic cemeteries, clergy, religious, religious education, marriage and family, Catholic youth, campus ministry and more.
Who keeps track of all that?
Meet Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, Diocese of Wilmington vicar general and moderator of the curia. He is the primary administrator under Bishop Malooly. He is also pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Wilmington.
As it celebrates its 150th anniversary, Msgr. Hurley is the person best equipped to answer the question, “What is a diocese?”
“When you think of the diocese, the diocese really is 56 parishes working together,” he said.
“When they say the diocese, people are usually thinking of the bishop and his staff, but really that’s part of it. It’s all the people, all the Catholics, all the parishes, all the clergy working together.”
“Having said that, we are the administrative, coordinating arm of that.”
Vicar general is an important job in any diocese and must be a person who can work in conjunction with the bishop. Formally, vicar general is “of the mind of the bishop,” Msgr. Hurley said. “I look at my role as kind of a conductor.”
A curia, or court, is essentially a group of church leaders and department heads. Six department heads report directly to Msgr. Hurley.
This department assists pastors and finance councils with financial operations of the parishes, which includes audits.
The diocese relies on a lay finance council made up of experts in various areas of the financial world, Msgr. Hurley said. A subcommittee of that is the investment committee, made up of experts in those fields, and the diocese engages an outside investment firm to execute its plans. Investments are socially screened, so that the diocese is not investing in anything that’s morally reprehensible or in conflict with church morals.
An audit subcommittee is “pretty intensive.”
“Without this lay involvement and input,” Msgr. Hurley said, “we would be in trouble.”
“In terms of finance, for me, it’s all about stewardship. We can do what we do because of the incredible generosity of our people and I think we owe it to them to be good stewards and not to waste money and make sure we’re managing it to the best of our ability.”
These longstanding community treasures are guided by a diocesan office that “functions like a superintendent’s office of any public-school system,” Msgr. Hurley said.
“They provide coordination among the principals, ongoing formation of the staff. They provide mentoring to new teachers, curriculum. They field any major complaints, deal with conflict resolution, professional development, assist in hiring of principals.”
The diocese directly oversees diocesan schools and assists with parish and private Catholic schools. Nearly three dozen Catholic elementary and high schools are based in the Diocese of Wilmington.
This department touches many lives in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
“It’s a long list of what they offer,” Msgr. Hurley said. “It is the outreach arm of the diocese in the sense of the corporal works of mercy. They do an incredible amount. One of the big things they do is lots of counseling.”
Food drives, the thrift store, Seton Center, Casa San Francisco, Bayard House, weatherization, Marydale retirement village are just some of the offerings.
“There’s just a plethora of outreach that they do.” It’s what donors think of most, he said.
“People want to hear about where their money’s going.”
Among the largest of projects in the diocese is the Annual Catholic Appeal.
“Without the appeal, those other ministries could not exist the way they exist,” the monsignor said.
The Development Department is most closely associated with the appeal but its responsibilities include planned giving, education fund and capital campaigns.
“It is the annual appeal, but it is any fundraising,” Msgr. Hurley said.
“Sustaining Hope for the Future was the major capital campaign that we had to undertake after bankruptcy. I think our goal was $28 million and we reached somewhere around $33 million. They coordinate that.”
Development assists with increased offertory programs, assisting parishes with their own capital programs and more, including assisting with and coaching the development directors that report to schools.
With nearly five dozen parishes and a diocese that covers two states, helping employees and employers can become hectic work. It includes specialized duties that not every parish can afford.
“HR is really out in the parishes,” Msgr. Hurley said. “A lot of conflict resolution with employee relations, making sure everyone is following federal employment regulations, which we have to follow. Centralized payroll is coordinated by HR.”
Coaching and speaking with pastors about good management and employee relations is also part of the role.
“People say, ‘We’re the church. We’re the church.’ We are the church but we also have to … out of stewardship … we must have good, sound practices in the way we administer these resources,” Msgr. Hurley said. “It’s not just diocesan HR issues. It’s important that the pastors know that they have professional HR support.”
The Office of Communications, Public Relations, and Media is responsible for communications of the diocese to the public via the media. It also handles communications within diocesan departments and parishes, etc.
The Dialog, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington, and its website, thedialog.org, were folded into the communications office last year. The office is also responsible for the administration of the Diocese of Wilmington’s website, www.cdow.org. Catholic Forum is a half-hour radio program/podcast that is produced by the office.
The office also advises and assists parishes and diocesan departments and ministries with communications needs and handles media inquiries for most Catholic entities in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Msgr. Hurley said he and Bishop Malooly emphasize the importance of communications and transparency.
In addition …
Catholic Cemeteries assists in the corporal work of mercy — burial of the dead — by operating and maintaining Cathedral and All Saints cemeteries in Wilmington, and Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Dagsboro. It also assists parishes by giving operational guidance to parish cemeteries. Msgr. Hurley said cemetery employees provide an important ministry; offering comfort, solace, and peace of mind to the Christian community during a time of loss.
The Office of Safe Environments is responsible for the continuing implementation of the “For the Sake of God’s Children” program that focuses on developing and maintaining safety for children and young people in Catholic parishes, schools, and youth ministries. The office processes more than 2,000 criminal background checks annually. Currently, there are more than 20,000 people – mostly volunteers in parish schools and youth athletic programs – who are cleared for service in diocesan and parish ministries.
The vicar general says when you put it all together, the diocese is a reflection of its communities.
“Just because the world has gotten more complicated, we have gotten more complicated,” he said. “Some of our priests remember when the chancery was run out of an office in the bishop’s residence. But things have gotten more complicated.”
“One of my guiding philosophies when I took over as vicar general – and I’ve told all of the department heads here – is that we exist to serve the parishes, so we are very outward looking. That’s the goal. Most every department head that I can think of is out in the parishes engaging and assisting with various activities and endeavors that the parish is trying to get to.
“We’ve been around 150 years, it’s a split second in the life of the church. But it kind of hits home that the diocese was here before I came along and the diocese will be here after I’m long gone. So, it’s being part of something greater. I’m carrying on the good work of others.
“Hopefully, we’re getting better at what we do. In terms of faith, for me it strengthens the faith because again it’s a realization that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s not an organization but an organism.
“At the end of the day,” Msgr. Hurley said, “we’re all representatives of the bishop.”