Msgr. Thomas McGread is a renowned stewardship pioneer. Beginning in the 1960s, Msgr McGread built St. Francis of Assisi in Wichita, Kansas into one of the most vibrant parishes in the country by teaching parishioners how to use their personal gifts. Msgr. McGread, now the Director Emeritus of Stewardship for the Diocese of Wichita, was influential in drafting the U.S. Bishop’s pastoral letter: Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, which adopted his terminology and theological vision. For him, stewardship is a biblically-based principle that begins with conversion of heart and translates into a lifestyle of service.
The Catholic Steward sat down with Msgr. McGread to discuss his personal experience. During the conversation, Msgr. McGread shared his personal journey with us as well as how and why he implemented the stewardship way of life at St. Francis of Assisi. You will find that Monsignor offers tremendous insight and encouragement for all parish leaders who are charged with the great task of forming Christ’s disciples.
The Catholic Steward: Monsignor, you have been called the Father of Catholic Stewardship in the United States because of the changes you made to the way stewardship is understood amidst Catholics. How did you personally come to a deeper understanding of stewardship as a disciple’s response to God’s call?
Msgr. McGread: I looked at Stewardship as a way to get people closer to God. There are so many scripture quotations in which Christ is telling us to be good stewards, to follow Him. We need to build our relationships with Him.
TCS: When did you develop this new understanding? And how, then, did you begin to implement stewardship as your personal way of life?
Msgr.: First, I came to the realization that we are all children of God and that we will each spend a certain amount of time on this earth. God has given each of us a certain amount of time here. There will come a time, when our life here is over. With this in mind, I believe, we must make good use of this time and do what God wants us to do with that time so that when we are called home by God we can say that we used what He gave us well.
TCS: At the time that you began looking at stewardship in this way, I understand that you were serving as the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Wichita. Were your parishioners initially receptive to the idea of living stewardship as their way of life, or did you meet much resistance?
Msgr.: I didn’t notice much resistance. About 1/3 of the parish caught on in the beginning, but it took quite a while for the whole parish to get on board.
TCS: Over the years, St. Francis of Assisi has become a model parish for the world. The parishioners really live their daily lives as Christ’s disciples. In fact, in their regular interactions with others, it is obvious that their commitments to Christ direct their actions. How did you “convince” your parishioners to commit to the stewardship way of life?
Msgr.: People don’t get converted by you telling them, by repeating something over and over. I approached the stewardship way of life from the standpoint that this is what God wants us to do as opposed to this is what we as a parish want to do. I believed that this is what God was calling us to do as his people. It was not, and is not, a “parish program.” It is the proper and constant response to God’s call in our lives.
TCS: What are some of the ways that you first began to implement stewardship as a way of life at St. Francis?
Msgr.: In the beginning, I was just trying to bring people closer to God. Then, the whole idea of stewardship as a way of life developed. I read some studies done by these priests in Biloxi, Miss. They were talking about people’s needs for standards in life – in regards to jobs, families, and the like. So, I began to develop the idea that people need to set standards in regards to Almighty God. We need to ask ourselves, “How much time do I give to God.” That’s what it is all about.
TCS: When you began to implement stewardship as a way of life at St. Francis, did you notice immediate changes in the life of the parish?
Msgr.: Yes, very much so. There was a change in people’s attitude – from negative to positive. They began to realize that God loves them, and with that realization, their whole approach to life changed.
TCS: Monsignor, Most Catholic parishes around the country see about 33 percent of their parishioners actively participate in parish life. I understand that St. Francis of Assisi has about 85% involvement. What do you think accounts for the high percentage of involvement at St. Francis, and what would you say to parish leaders to encourage them when they are only seeing a low percentage of parishioners involved?
Msgr.: I believe that the high percentage of involvement that we have at St. Francis is due to the various ministries that we have at St. Francis as well as the people’s belief in stewardship. They recognize that everything we have is a gift from Almighty God, and the only way we can show Him our gratitude for all He has given us is by giving Him our very selves. So, they yearn to grow closer to Him. In addition, there is an understanding amongst the people here that the absolute best place to experience God’s presence, to meet face to face with Christ, is in the celebration of the Mass. So, our Masses are packed to overflowing!
I would tell parish leaders, don’t worry about numbers. Rather, set an example. Numbers don’t make a difference. It’s all about changing people’s hearts. As with anything having to do with God, people are free to turn away, and some people will. But, I would reassure them (parish leaders) – this is a tried and true way to live the Christian Faith. The stewardship way of life has spread throughout the country because it is what God wants us to do. Be assured, if a movement like this is from man, it will die down, but if it is from God, it will flourish. Stewardship as a way of life is flourishing throughout the country because God’s hand is in it. But, again, the emphasis must be on spirituality, on bringing people closer to God, on changing hearts, and not on increasing numbers.