Fr. Gerald Harris and Sue Steckbauer, pastor and administrator of St. Bridget, River Falls, respectively, celebrated a successful ‘non-campaign’ to pay off the parish’s debt. (Submitted photo)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

St. Bridget’s Parish in River Falls has just paid off the remainder of a loan for a large-scale building project in record time.

A notice was placed in the parish bulletin in early May, requesting that the remainder of the mortgage – $295,000 – be paid off by the end of June.

This was a “non-campaign” with no fundraisers, phone calls or gatherings, said Fr. Gerald Harris, pastor.

“It was a plea to pay off the remaining debt to free up money for ministry to continue the work of Christ,” he added.
“The finance council and I would like to pay off the remaining debt from the church addition of $295,000 before the end of June,” he said in a mid-May address to parishioners.

“Yes, that’s an ambitious goal,” he said, “but being free from the monthly mortgage and interest payments means we can use those contributions for other areas of ministry and continue to plan for the future of our parish. We are asking for a one-time tithe over and above your regular contribution.”

The “Fulfilling the Dream” effort to pay off the remainder of the loan for the building expansion project completed in 2006 was reached in fewer than six weeks. In fact, parishioners exceeded the goal. A total of $337,169.13 was received, with the final online payment made June 21 and the official mortgage papers delivered Wednesday, June 27.
“We are debt free,” Fr. Harris announced at weekend Masses a few days later. “Folks, that is truly amazing and absolutely humbling for a pastor. We are blessed beyond measure.”

“Many of you have been contributing to the debt retirement for years using contribution envelopes or via automatic withdrawal. We plan to rename that account ‘capital improvements’ and hope that you will continue donating as you have been,” he said.

Those funds – plus any received above and beyond the amount needed to pay off the loan – have been placed in a money market account to be used for larger parish improvement projects such as upkeep, repair and replacement of the parking lot and windows, LED lighting upgrades, roof maintenance, cemetery roadwork, painting, altar renovation, boiler systems and other needs. “Even with a newer building, there is always work to be done,” Harris said.

For the parish, the addition has been a blessing.

“With the added space, we have more sanctuary seating, we are able to host larger church and community events, provide more space for faith formation, and provide a beautiful chapel and functional office space. We have become a different church. Being able to pay off the debt provides financial security for our parish and allows us to focus on ministry,” Harris said.

The addition efficiently uses virtually every foot of space that was available for expansion westward, and also allowed a long ramp to give disabled people better access.

“Parish administrator Sue Steckbauer suggested the idea at a finance council meeting knowing that we were getting close ($300,000) to paying off the loan. Hoping that the parishioners would see the financial benefit and the spiritual boost of being debt free, an idea was formulated to conduct our own internal campaign and ask members to donate what they were able,” Harris said. “The finance council, parish council and pastor agreed and the ‘Fulfilling the Dream’ campaign began.”

The response by the parish community in the days and weeks since the goal was met has been called amazing.
“They are thrilled that the debt is paid. There is a strong sense of community and accomplishment,” Harris said.
Steckbauer said the parishioners of St. Bridget gave generously – showing their support of their pastor, their parish and their vision for the future.

“In about six weeks, we were able to fulfill the dream that began with the original capital campaign in 2005. St. Bridget Catholic Community is truly blessed,” she said.