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story.lead_photo.caption A statue of St. Joseph holding baby Jesus stands Wednesday afternoon, April 1, 2020, outside St. Joseph Cathedral Church in Jefferson City. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / Fulton Sun.
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Parishes and schools in the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City could see financial issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On average, the parishes receive 86 percent of their revenue from tithes given at Sunday Masses, Diocesan Director of Communications Helen Osman said. Public Masses have been suspended to prevent spread of the coronavirus, and many people are likely unable to donate due to financial strains.

"With the expected rise in unemployment and possible shuttering of some businesses, we know some people's ability to tithe will be diminished for the foreseeable future," Osman said.

The Diocese of Jefferson City — which comprises 95 Catholic parishes across 38 counties in central and northeastern Missouri — has 40 parochial schools, including three high schools and 37 elementary schools.

There are 1,756 employees across the diocese's parishes, schools and central offices. Of those, 1,135 are benefit eligible, Osman said.

The elementary schools — including St. Joseph Cathedral School, St. Peter Interparish School and Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City — rely on a stewardship model instead of tuition.

"While some parishes have adequate reserves and vibrant, missionary activity among their parishioners as evangelizers, there are also those that exist from offertory collection to offertory collection and minimal mission activity, and many others somewhere in between," Bishop W. Shawn McKnight wrote in a letter to pastors and other parish officials.

Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, Fr. Tolton Catholic High School in Columbia and Sacred Heart High School in Sedalia rely on tuition instead of stewardship, but they could be affected if families can no longer afford tuition due to loss of employment or reduction in income, Osman said.

The bishop said he hopes to keep all staff employed with regular wages through April 10, which is the April 17 paycheck. This ensures staff will receive wages and benefits through the month of April until the details of how the stimulus plan will apply to churches and schools are fully understood, he wrote.

All diocesan schools are closed through at least April 30.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our parishes, local communities, the economy and the entire world, we are faced with the reality that several of our parishes and schools may not be able to weather this storm," McKnight wrote in the letter. "It depends on how long the pandemic lasts, and it depends on how much we as a pilgrim people can sustain the various institutions of the Church, including the employees who keep our parishes and schools functioning."

McKnight asked each parish to submit a report of all available funds by April 15. This information will include where these funds are on deposit, their purpose and whether there are any restrictions on them. It will also list parishes' anticipated revenues and expenses for the next three months.

The diocese is working with the parishes and schools to determine how each can address the likely loss of funding, Osman said.

"We're working very hard to have a plan that is intended to keep the church's presence alive and visible for people," she said.

If a parish experiences financial trouble, the diocese will not be able to cover the expenses, McKnight said in the letter. If a parish is already in distress, he said, its leaders should contact the chancery staff immediately for assistance.

Diocese Director of Human Resources Cheryl Hertfelder has been in regular contact with pastors regarding how this will impact parish employees, McKnight said.

Decisions regarding staff layoffs are made on the parish and school level after consultation with diocesan officials. The diocese assists the parishes and schools with human resources, finances, administration and communication, Osman said.

"My colleagues are literally working night and day to see how we can support our employees," she said.

Osman said she cannot yet confirm if parishes have seen a reduction in collections. The diocese is still receiving information from the parishes, and mail and online contributions make it difficult to accurately account, she said.

St. Joseph Cathedral School Principal Spencer Allen said in a newsletter that local parishes have seen drastic reductions in collections and are struggling to find a plan to meet payroll if schools remain closed.

Staff will be laid off if parishes cannot afford payroll, Allen said in the newsletter. Because they are employees of a religious institution, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Cathedral of St. Joseph parish officials declined to comment, and Immaculate Conception and St. Peter officials didn't respond to requests for comment.

Donations to parishes in the Diocese of Jefferson City may be made at diojeffcity.org/support-parish or mailed to the parish office. People can also volunteer to help those affected by the coronavirus or request assistance at diojeffcity.org/public-health.

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