| By Teresa Peterson

A Pilgrimage Across Five Counties

A pilgrimage is not about the destination but about the experience along the way.  It’s a journey that leads to discovering God and learning more about yourself and your purpose. For Diocese of St. Petersburg Chief Financial Officer John Dey, his recent tour of 75 Catholic churches was a pilgrimage to encounter the people he is called to serve and to see God’s beauty revealed in the churches around us. What he learned will help him in his new role. Shortly after Bishop Parkes appointed him to serve as CFO for a five-year term April 18, 2023, he filled up the gas tank, hit the road, and traveled more than 1,000 miles. We interviewed Dey about the experience, what he learned, and how it changed him.

Why did you visit all the parishes and Catholic schools around the Diocese? 

I wanted to introduce myself to the pastors, principals, and parish managers and let them put a face to the name. Also, since I’m the CFO of the Diocese, I wanted to see firsthand the properties that we are responsible for stewarding and maintaining for the mission of the Church.

When did this pilgrimage take place?

I started my journey in Citrus County the second week of July and then worked my way south. Then, I continued throughout July, visiting parishes in Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, and Hillsborough Counties. I sometimes visited five parishes in one day if the parishes were close together. I took a break from touring parishes in August and September. Then, I wrapped up the pilgrimage the second and third weeks of October. 

What happened during your visits? 

I toured the churches, administrative offices, and social halls of each parish. I learned about the demographics of the parish. I also learned about the condition of the buildings and what was being planned. I strove to earn trust with the clergy and staff so we can have open communication and a good understanding of how we can work together for the good of our mission.

How did it impact your faith life?

We always started our conversations with an opening prayer. When I entered the churches, it was a quiet and solemn experience. I genuflected towards the tabernacle and altar. It was a spiritual experience to see so many churches.

What is your role as CFO?

I am responsible for stewarding all assets in the Diocese and for overseeing financial affairs of the Diocese. My position is required by Canon Law, and I’m appointed by the bishop to serve for five years. I work to ensure financial stability of the Diocese and to ensure that whatever treasures we have are being properly used and accounted for to build up God’s kingdom here on earth. We partner with our parishes and schools to be responsible stewards of the buildings and properties entrusted to us.

What have you learned so far that surprised you?

I have been surprised to learn of the diversity across our Diocese. I didn’t know that we celebrate Mass in 14 foreign languages in our Diocese. It was fascinating to meet priests from so many countries and cultures. I was also surprised by how large so many of our properties are. Many of our parish campuses have over ten acres. Also, there are a lot of churches located in poor areas that have food pantries. I saw people lining up for food and saw firsthand how people in the community rely on our parishes. I also learned about the incredible work of volunteer groups that help parishes with maintenance and improvements. It’s heartwarming.

What have you learned that concerned you?

My concern is the capital needs of the older parish facilities. I saw some of our aging properties, and I heard about air conditioning and roof replacements that will be needed or are needed currently.

How have parishes reacted to your visits?

People were very welcoming to me. They were glad to know that I cared and was interested in what they are doing. 

Is this the first time you have done something like this?

I was CFO in the Diocese of Erie (Pennsylvania) for five years, and I did the same trip there. Our Diocese is much more diverse, and the campuses are much bigger. The Diocese of Erie was 10,000 square miles, so the parishes were much more spread out and more rural.

You also visited some schools. Tell us about that experience.

I visited 15 schools over a two-week period in the summer, the last week of June and first week of July. These schools were either part of the Catholic School System (schools operated by the Diocese) or other schools that were next to parishes. The schools had different facilities of course. I toured classrooms, gyms, and outdoor facilities.