By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published January 10, 2008
Concluding his service of five years as the chief financial officer of the archdiocese, Gary Meader said he has loved the opportunity to use his knowledge and experience in the service of the church.
He had retired once from the corporate world, but then he was asked to serve in an archdiocesan position.
“This came along, and I couldn’t say no to Msgr. (Paul) Reynolds,” Meader said in an interview in 2007 looking back on his experience and the request that came from one of the then vicars general of the archdiocese.
“Giving something back is what I’ve enjoyed. The staff I have here is the most dedicated and hard-working one I’ve had. The Lord’s blessed me, and I wanted to give something back to the church,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. … I’ve had more fun doing this than any job I’ve had. … I’ve loved it, I really have.”
His successor, Brad Wilson, officially assumed the post on July 1, 2007, the start of the new fiscal year, and the transition culminated with the completion of the annual audit of the archdiocese, the results of which are published in this issue of The Georgia Bulletin.
Among the tasks accomplished under his tenure, Meader cited the revamping of the budget process internally in the administrative offices of the archdiocese and the revamping of its internal financial reporting so that the process mirrors the annual report that is published.
Meader also cited the process of developing and launching St. George Village, the Catholic continuing care retirement community in Roswell, which included the sale of $48.5 million in tax-exempt bonds. This financing was unique for a project of this type, Meader said, “probably the first time it was done in the Southeast and maybe the country.”
Additionally, he said, the bonds were structured so that they were only issued when they were actually needed, not in anticipation of the cost of the project. This approach saved a significant amount of money, he said.
He said that over half the bonds issued for St. George Village—and the corresponding debt—were retired. All of the funds came from deposits paid by St. George Village residents to secure a place in the facility.
The remainder of the bonds will be retired out of the cash flow of St. George Village on a bond-retirement schedule for the life of the bonds.
On a different challenge, Meader said, through a multi-year project, all the church management software for all parishes and schools of the archdiocese has been replaced and all locations are using an identical system. Likewise, the accounting, payroll and human resource programs have been made uniform throughout the parishes and schools with those used at the administrative offices of the archdiocese. The archdiocese built a portal that ties all the systems together, Meader said.
“It is really cutting-edge technology. I don’t think there is a diocese in the country that has what we have. Other dioceses are looking at what we’ve developed,” he said.
One of the positive outcomes of the technology is that the archdiocese can track documents and ensure compliance with all of its safe environment policies mandated under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, he said. The extensive policy covers various aspects of hiring, background checks, safe environment training, assessment of volunteers, and many other details of church life to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults.
The technology is aimed at synchronizing parish data and information with archdiocesan databases in a variety of crucial areas including human resources and payroll.
A member of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, Meader is married, the father of three sons and grandfather of two granddaughters.
“I intend to spoil both of them,” he said of his retirement plans.
Since 2006, he has also had to battle multiple myeloma and he has twice undergone stem cell transplants. But he said his retirement in 2007 came not because of health concerns but because when he took the position as chief financial officer “I agreed to do it for five years, which commonly is what a CFO’s term is.”
He became the chief financial officer of the archdiocese in May 2002, after serving as chief financial officer of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools for the previous year and as a consultant to the archdiocese on school finances before that. A certified public accountant, he was chief financial officer of Cotton States Insurance Group, Atlanta, from 1987-99 and previously controller there for 11 years. He had also served as an auditor and manager in St. Louis and Atlanta for the accounting firm of KPMG.
Challenges that will face his successor include finding a way to expand the Catholic school system and keep it affordable; responding to the growth in the Hispanic Catholic community of North Georgia; and balancing the needs of archdiocesan programs while trying to keep parish assessments as low as possible.
Acknowledging that he is “a great believer in the Catholic schools,” Meader said, “we need more Catholic schools at the elementary level, and it’s going to be a challenge to figure out how to expand the system.”
“How do we finance them?” he asked. “Affordable education is an absolute must, but a challenge.”
While some may question making the schools a priority, Meader said he believes the archdiocese is helping to ensure the strength of the church of the future when schools are opened.
“I firmly believe that kids that come out of parochial school systems are going to be the leaders in the diocese years from now,” he said. “We’ve got to build that base.”
In his view it is also vital “that we keep providing the money that we do to keep our seminarian program viable.”
“We have probably spent more money on our seminarians than many other dioceses our size. Our investment in the seminarian program has paid off,” Meader said.
Inherent in the role of the chief financial officer is to evaluate and advise the archdiocese on how to balance the financial needs of the varying and complex components of the church in North Georgia.
“One of the big challenges of this job is to balance the needs of the archdiocese with the needs of the parishes and the schools. Sometimes what is best for one is not best for the other. Sometimes you have to make a decision that … is the best for all,” Meader said.
He was pleased that beginning July 1, 2007, the archdiocese was able to lower the school assessment paid by parishes. The reduction is expected to total 10 percent over two years.
“The cash flow that is coming in will be more than sufficient to meet our debt service requirements and tuition aid requirements,” Meader said.
The lowering of that assessment rate is a definite positive, facilitated by a growing offertory in the archdiocese.
Geoge Aulbach, chairman of the archdiocesan Finance Council, a lay advisory group to the archbishop mandated by canon law, said he had a very close working relationship with Meader.
“It was a pleasure to work with him,” Aulbach said. “He did a great job in the archdiocese in his own quiet way. Gary was very humble, not afraid to consult with me and get my opinion on major financial matters and financial policy. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Gary. He wanted to make certain the final decision was completely thought through. I have a lot of respect for Gary, for his attitude and for his regard for his staff and those in the archdiocese he served.”
Thanking Meader for his service in a letter published with the 2007 annual report, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said, “He served the local Church admirably and in the process made countless lasting friendships, all grounded in his own response to the Lord’s friendship.”
“Gary heard what the Master told him to do, and he did it—faithfully and excellently. We thank him for his friendship and his example of service, as we wish the continued blessings of God for Gary and his family.”