New finance director brings ‘boots on the ground’ experience

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Larry French, right, was recently hired as the Diocese of Superior’s director of finance. He is pictured with Diocesan Director of Administrative Services Dan Blank. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff
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April 26 marked one month since Larry French stepped into the Diocese of Superior’s director of finance position. The hiring was an important step for the diocese as it continues rebuilding its administrative arm. When previous director Ron Nelson unexpectedly died in 2011, long-time diocese employee Richard Lyons absorbed the role into his administrative services director position.

Since 2012, Lyons learned the position, performed the work, and succeeded in leading the finance department while juggling duties of the full-time administrative position — all without a specific finance background.

It was the desire of Bishop James P. Powers to separate the positions so the diocese and parishes would be properly served. As 2017 progressed, the diocesan finance council agreed with the bishop’s recommendations to budget for salary and benefits, and for the hiring process to begin.

Lyons has remained on staff part-time as an important asset to the transition of both last year’s new administration director, and now French.

Born and raised in Manitowoc, French lives with his wife, Kathy, a physical therapist, on a hobby farm in Lewis (between Siren and Frederic). They have six children, ages 28 to 16, none married, with one discerning the priesthood as a Dominican.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a dual math and computer science degree with teaching certification, French connects classroom knowledge with real life. This skill complemented the homeschool education the couple provided all their children.
One of his favorite repeat experiences as a teacher (at home and at the high school and community college levels) was being asked, “when am I ever going to use this?”
“All the time,” he would respond, and look for everyday math applications and opportunities to promote the sciences.

French put his creative thinking skills to work figuring out how the entire family could bike together, resulting in a tandem bicycle with an attached tandem trail-a-bike and Burley D’lite bicycle trailer. He says the family would ride the conglomeration in parades promoting the physical therapy and consulting businesses they had over the years.

After working as an accounting systems engineer for General Motors, he discovered his love for the field and obtained a master’s degree. Through self-employed consulting work, French expanded his expertise in the areas of fraud prevention, internal auditing, standardization methods and general accounting best practices. Over the last few years, he has shared these with a few parishes who requested his help; one of these was St. John the Evangelist in Webster.

A fourth-degree Knight of Columbus, French values supporting the bishop and vocations. A man passionate about his own faith, he holds every priest in high esteem and has developed a particular regard for the Indian priests serving within the diocese. This was augmented in 2014 when he and his wife, along with their three youngest children, traveled to India, touring with Fr. Louis Reddy Maram Reddy and visiting his hometown.

The French family is looking forward to buying a second home in Superior; one that has a yard big enough to plant apple trees in.
French is highly motivated by curiosity and discovery. Bringing “boots on the ground” experience and a determined work ethic to his new diocesan role, French is excited that, “Now, I’m working for God.” He shared that he starts each day acknowledging, “Lord, this is your job.” He entrusts himself and his work to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Joseph and has their images at his desk.

He sees himself as “just a steward” and believes that efficient and effective teamwork between the Chancery and parishes will be best built upon local ownership and involvement.

“We know that people (in the parishes) are doing their best,” French said, “and we’ll help you.” He is keenly aware of the need to keep the priests involved in the parish finances, “but they aren’t accountants.”

French is pleased that there are plentiful resources specific to parish and diocese administration. “We’re not reinventing the wheel” he said.

Beside the budgeting process already in full swing, getting to know each locale, their priests, administrators and bookkeepers is one of French’s top priorities. Parallel to his classroom and consulting experience, he enjoys the challenge of helping individuals discover their strengths and needs and matching those with helpful resources and best practices.

“How do you eat an elephant?” is a favorite saying of his; the answer being, “one bite at a time.”

French confesses that he is still getting his feet wet using a 30-60-90 day approach to planning initial priorities. Immediate goals include relationship building and basic training where needed.

French said, “technology is only as good as our knowledge to use it,” which rests on a foundational understanding of accounting principles and practices.

French believes as a Catholic organization, the diocese’s greatest asset should be “integrity.”

This involves fiduciary responsibility, said the new finance director. “We have to be frugal; not chintzy or cheap, but responsible with the money we ask people to give.” In addition, he hopes to evaluate policies that protect the balance between financial history and budgeting, which in turn can safeguard parishes and assist parish administrators.

He hopes his efforts can help those who help the priests, so that they can maintain their primary role — not the administration of parishes, but “the salvation of souls.”

French will work alongside Dan Blank, the director of administrative services since early 2017. According to Blank, “It’s an exciting time for the diocese,” to have a full time person with the experience and qualifications for the finance director position.

Blank applauded Dick Lyons’ service, and said he “stabilized the ship for those years.” But he is “thrilled that Larry agreed to come on board with his expertise.” Blank is looking to French for leadership and help in continuing to make the chancery a “great, credible resource to the parishes.”

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