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McDonough to conclude tenure as chancellor

James P. McDonough Pilot file photo/Gregory L.Tracy

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BRAINTREE -- James P. McDonough, widely credited with bringing financial stability to the archdiocese, has announced that he will be stepping down as chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston.

McDonough will conclude his tenure as chancellor effective March 2. He will be succeeded by John E. Straub, currently Executive Director of Finance and Operations for Central Ministries, as interim chancellor. Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley made the announcement Jan. 31.

"Over the past six years Jim has served the Church with distinction. He faced our most challenging issues with the willingness to develop solutions that addressed the problems and respected the people we serve," Cardinal O'Malley said.

McDonough, the fifth lay chancellor in the archdiocese, achieved Cardinal O'Malley's goal of a balanced budget and led an effort to focus on the financial health of the parishes. During his tenure, he addressed the clergy pension funding and recommended the creation of an independent board to oversee its implementation.

He also oversaw the move of the archdiocese's central administration from the former Brighton campus to the Pastoral Center in Braintree in 2008.

In 2009 McDonough wrote for The Pilot about the move out of seven buildings spread throughout Brighton, Dorchester and West Roxbury and into the Braintree location. According to his Jan. article "To continue the saving ministry of Jesus Christ," the change put the archdiocese on budget to save $500,000 on the center's budget.

In addition to exceeding the targeted savings in the 2009 budget, McDonough said the Pastoral Center saved money due to increased energy efficiency.

"With the benefit of his leadership, the Archdiocese of Boston is better able to serve our parishes, schools and ministries. We are grateful for all that he has done for us and look forward to his continued participation in the mission of the Church," Cardinal O'Malley said.

"It has been one of the great privileges of my life to serve the Church of Boston... to work for some of the greatest men I have known in my life, for a mission that I greatly believe in," McDonough told The Pilot in an interview.

Appointed in five-year terms, the chancellor serves as the chief financial officer of the archdiocese and has responsibility for the financial management of the archdiocese including budget, financial reporting, cash management, investments, risk management, MIS, benefits, human resources, cemeteries, real estate and facilities.

The cardinal reappointed McDonough to a second five-year term less than a year ago.

McDonough explained he accepted the second term, which began June 5, because he was aware a vicar general for the archdiocese would be appointed soon and wanted to provide continuity of leadership during that transition. Msgr. Robert P. Deeley assumed the position of vicar general Sept. 1.

He also said he wants to step aside so that a new chancellor can assume the role as a new phase of pastoral planning begins and see that process through to the end.

"The decision concerning this change is Jim's alone. He made the decision that this is the best time. He discussed it with the cardinal and with me. We agreed with his decision," Msgr. Deeley said.

"It does not mark any change in direction on either the cardinal's part or mine," he said.

McDonough served as chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston for just fewer than six years. During that time, he reorganized the financial management of the Archdiocese, including budget and financial reporting as well as the structure and functioning of the organization.

Cardinal O'Malley said McDonough displayed unwavering dedication, commitment, and management skill allowing the archdiocese to reestablish a sound financial foundation.

McDonough explained the difficulty he faced when he took up the position in 2006.

"Quite frankly when I got here, I early on realized I was overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the problems and challenges that faced the Church at that time financially," he said.

McDonough said building up strong teams, such as the archdiocesan finance council he appointed in 2006, alleviated the pressure and became key in advancing the goals of countering the financial troubles of the archdiocese at the time.

"We found some great people who were very talented were already in place, and then we were able to bring in some really talented people who wanted to work for the Church," he said.

McDonough said Jack McCarthy, Peter Lynch, and Jack Connors of the finance council along with John Kaneb were a few of the people working for the archdiocese when he arrived.

"Those folks were, and have been, so giving of their time and talent," McDonough said.

He credited them for "enormous support" during his early attempts at stabilizing the archdiocese in the face of "myriad challenges."

Msgr. Deeley explained that while Straub is being named interim chancellor, it is expected that he will assume the position on a permanent basis.

"It is helpful at a time of change to kind of listen to the constituencies. So, the interim appointment is intended to help us to give John an opportunity to listen to the different people that we serve," he said.

"It is our hope that within the next six months the interim appointment will be changed to a permanent appointment," Msgr. Deeley said.

Straub is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and former associate dean at Harvard University.

Under President Bush, he served as director of administration, chief financial officer, and acting chief information officer. Straub also held operational roles for Harvard University and for the United States House of Representatives.

"I'm very confident to be leaving the affairs of the archdiocese in the capable hands of my colleague, John Straub," said McDonough.

Straub committed to a combination of "continued strong team building" and analysis of personnel assets already in place, to move personnel into positions where they can do the most good addressing the finances of the archdiocese.

"If you get everybody on the right bus, you now want to get everybody on the right seats on the right bus. I think we have the right teams in place, and now just need to refine who is doing what specific tasks," Straub said.

He cited the early release of the archdiocese's annual financial statements as evidence of an already strong infrastructure of personnel moving the Church in the right direction.

Chancellor McDonough plans to work with Straub throughout the transition, implementing the changes undertaken at the Pastoral Center throughout the archdiocese on a parish level.

"What we have really started to focus on from the chancellor's office is really assisting parishes now to do the same kinds of things that we have had the benefit of," Straub said.

Straub said this plan will not solely address pastoral planning in local parishes, but moves to address simple costs from day-to-day expenses. He cited plans for energy efficiency improvements and collaborative purchasing agreements with utilities and other providers which, he said, could save parishes between $1 million to $3 million.

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