CNA—Ninety-six loans and just over $96 million. That’s the track record thus far of Catholic Finance Corporation (CFC), a Minneapolis-based Catholic firm that has issued tens of millions of dollars in loans to regional Catholic organizations and groups over the past few decades.
Michael Laughery, the group’s director of partner services, told CNA that the firm’s Catholic identity is front and center in everything it does. “We’re in the Kennedy Directory; we only serve, by definition, other Catholic organizations,” he said.
CFC, Laughery said, was established in 2000 under the late Archbishop Harry Joseph Flynn. Its purpose was to provide Catholic institutions — specifically those located in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — with capital improvement loans. “For a roof, or even new computers or a new HVAC system,” Laughery explained.
“It arose out of the Growing in Faith capital campaign the archdiocese was conducting at the time,” Laughery said. Initially, the firm issued loans only within the archdiocese itself, though it has recently expanded those offerings statewide.
“The board last fall did actually loan some money to a parish outside the archdiocese,” Laughery said. “Now it’s evolved. We will loan within the state of Minnesota.”
“That’s Pillar One of our mission, is loans,” Laughery said. “In the archdiocese, since our inception, we’ve had 96 loans over the past 23 years.”
“It’s a revolving loan pool,” he said. “We’re just shy of $100,000,000 loaned out.”
Laughery joked that the setup is “kind of a Bailey Savings & Loan model,” referring to the business-minded yet altruistic bank run by Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
On its website, the firm lists various case studies in which its loans have helped Catholic institutions, including new boilers for a church in St. Paul and major renovations for a parish in Minneapolis.
The institution also offers pro bono financial services. “We’ve given about 42,000 pro bono hours as well,” Laughery said. “It’s been about 20% of our time we devote to pro bono services.”
Expansion into data service
In addition to its ongoing loan program, CFC also offers data analysis services for dioceses around the country.
“We started getting calls” about data consultations, Laughery said. “The focus was primarily the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was an organic growth into inquiries into education and training.”
Bishops and religious orders outside of the archdiocese, he said, began requesting their consultation services.
Laughery said the firm’s data consultants, under the brand of PartnersEdge, specialize in “finance and operations.”
“We’re not faith formation, we’re not evangelization,” he said. “Our expertise is in temporal goods, and in using data to make decision-making.”
Laughery said their consultation approach begins with an assessment of a diocese’s current status and its trajectory.
“We’re trying to help a bishop and their team understand, ‘What is?’ What is our current state? And then help them envision, and invite the Holy Spirit into, the work of understanding: What are we called to? What ought to be?”
“We take them through a facilitated process to get from what is to what ought to be,” he said. “That starts with the data.”
Areas of analysis include priests, financials, sacraments, giving trends, and demographic trends. In some cases a review finds a demographic growth within the local Catholic population, Laughery said; in others there has been a net emigration.
PartnersEdge says on its website that its mission is to help Catholic institutions realize “an improved position of financial strength and security so that they may freely and faithfully fulfill their mission through their various ministries.”
Laughery said the response has been positive. One bishop, he said, described the process as “helping us to develop the new wineskins in which we are going to pour new wine.”
The whole initiative, Laughery said, helps diocesan officials in “understanding the environment in which you’ve lived, the data that’s informing this lived experience, and what the Holy Spirit is calling you to do.”
All of it, he noted, is meant “to let Jesus be known and loved in this particular situation we find ourselves in.”