Throughout the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal Paycheck Protection Program secured the jobs of 231 Worcester diocesan employees and countless more parish and school staff. Their work continued with little interruption to the benefit of the thousands of people in the diocese whom they serve.
Impact on Schools and Parishes
In addition to the central administration and diocesan schools which were covered by the diocesan loan application, individual parishes and schools had the option to apply for relief through the CARES Act as well. At least 43 parishes and parish schools applied for and received some level of assistance, receiving a total of $2,854,332 in forgivable loans ranging from $11,000 to $408,900.
The process was handled through the parish’s or school’s local bank.
St. Paul Cathedral received a $40,000 PPP loan. According to Msgr. James P. Moroney, rector, the loan kept six staff employed in their part-time and full time jobs and, as importantly, “allowed us to continue to provide pastoral care at a time when people were struggling with the uncertainties of this pandemic.”
Father William Schipper, pastor of Mary Queen of the Rosary Parish in Spencer, saw the PPP loan of $13,700 as an important stop-gap measure. “It allowed us to keep our small staff of one full time and two part-time people employed to cover the parish and cemetery operations while offertory donations have been down. People are still looking to the parish for support during this pandemic, from food assistance to commending their departed loved ones to eternal rest,” he said.
Father Robert A. Grattaroti of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton was grateful to be able to keep their 16-person staff of mostly part-time people employed with a $33,550 PPP loan. “This avoided having to lay off people who are dedicated to our parish at a time when people were not able to come to public liturgies and donations were down,” he said. Members of the parish finance committee and the diocese finance office were instrumental in assisting the parish in learning about the relief, he noted.
“Keeping church and school staff working, even remotely, has had an impact beyond the boundaries of the parish facilities, said Father Stephen Lundrigan, pastor of Annunciation Parish and Holy Family Academy in Gardner.” “Many of our homebound, elderly, or at-risk members have few supports outside of our parish or school community. Individuals gripped by fear and uncertainty relied on the Church as a stable place during an unstable time. By continuing our pastoral, charitable and educational services, the PPP loan did far more than just provide paychecks to our 45 full-time and part-time people.”
Father Ronald Falco, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish and School, in Northborough, summed up the relief as “a real grace.” He was trying to determine how to keep the entire staff at his parish and the largest elementary school in the diocese employed and was grateful that they were able to jump on the loan process quickly and apply as soon as the bank was ready to accept applications.
“Faced with a decline in donations and cancelled fundraisers, the combined PPP loans made it possible to keep 60 people working,” according to Father Falco.
Msgr. Michael Rose of St. Mary Parish and School in Shrewsbury saw the relief from PPP from two aspects: It helped make up for lost fundraising due to cancelled events and suspension of outreach for their annual fund drive. And it allowed the school to keep employed all the part-time staff who were involved in suspended programs, including art and physical education, the lunchroom, the library, or after-school programs.
Impact on Catholic Social Service Agencies
Timothy McMahon, director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Worcester, was certainly relieved when he received the news of the PPP loan of $1,290,341 for the agency.
“We kept 268 people employed from the beginning of the crisis,” Mr. McMahon noted. “It was important for us to support staff who have given many years of dedicated service to our clients as well as staff which have specialized training which is still needed by our families. Given that there has been far more food insecurity and housing fears due to so many unemployed or underemployed people, many of our services have been in high demand.”
“If relief programs such as the PPP continue, even if we cannot apply for more aid, we will still benefit if it keeps donors and potential clients in the community employed,” said Mr. McMahon.
Pernet Family Health Service, another Catholic social service provider in the Worcester area, also received a PPP loan. The $255,000 came through just in the nick of time.
“We were certainly happy to be able to keep our staff of 27 employed, particularly at the outset when there was so much uncertainty,” said Sheilah Dooley, director of the agency. “But as importantly, it meant we could continue in our mission to help build stronger families, particularly families who are at the highest risks of going hungry or needing so many other forms of support.”
Future relief programs
If the PPP has an additional round of funding this fall, the diocese, its parishes and schools may be indirectly helped, even if they don’t apply for direct aid.
David Perda, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, said, “In the spring our schools responded quickly to the challenge of remote education, but some families were hesitant to enroll for the fall given the uncertainty of whether on-site learning would be fully implemented. I think schools will experience an indirect form of relief when families remain employed because their children can stay enrolled in their school of choice. Our students will continue to benefit from our preparedness, including safe, onsite classrooms as well as effective education, should remote learning resurface.”
Pernet Family Health Service, Inc.