Financial Director Retires After 34 Years with Diocese
CFO Leaves Diocese in Good Shape and Good Hands …
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
August 3, 2017

DIOCESE—Keeping track of the bottom line is never easy and sometimes it isn’t popular. That’s the life of an accountant.

Sometimes the accountants have to look beyond the bottom line and analyze what is fair and just. It is difficult work.

And if you ask long-time diocesan employees they will say Dr. Wayne Lenell did what was fair and just and they were glad.

Lenell has been doing that difficult work for the Diocese of Rockford since 1983. As the Chief Financial Officer of the diocese, he has kept the financial well-being of the diocese on track for the past 34 years.

Not only has he looked out for the diocese, he has also been an innovator and advocate for workplace justice for the clergy and laypeople alike.  

He was one of the first laymen to recognize the unjust wages paid to the ordained which led to salary increases for priests and created a plan for financing seminarian education.

He has also worked tirelessly on behalf of the laypeople who work for the church under three of Rockford’s bishops. He improved the employment practices of parishes and schools, put in place protocols for hiring and evaluating church employees, developed appropriate and just benefit packages that came to include both short and long-term disability options and created policies for safe environments for employees across the 11-county diocese.

As a result of these efforts, the Rockford Diocese has long been recognized as a model in attracting and retaining talented and qualified employees in all facets of work.

Not only have other dioceses recognized Dr. Lenell’s work, he has been recognized as a leader by several professional organizations.

In 2005, the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, NACPA, awarded him the Vision Award and in 2011, Dr. Lenell was issued the first-ever certification for Diocesan Fiscal Managers, a recognition he earned after being chosen by the national Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference to write the certifying exam.

However, the professional exam isn’t the only thing Dr. Lenell has written. He is the author of “Income Taxes for Priests Only,” a nationally recognized tax manual for priests, the “Tax Manual for Deacons,” and numerous other publications including articles in The Priest Magazine, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Touchstone, The Herald, Deacon Digest and others. He has also been a popular lecturer and consultant on the subjects of priests’ income taxes, compensation and retirement planning.

Lenell earned a bachelor’s degree with dual majors in accounting and finance from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1973 and worked as an accountant in private industry for several years in the Woodstock and Elk Grove areas. In 1977 he became a Certified Public Accountant and took a post as a senior accountant from Coopers and Lybrand, one of the nation’s largest accounting firms. In 1979 he began his own accounting firm in Belvidere, focusing on services to not-for profit entities. He also taught accounting classes at Rockford Business College.

Lenell came to the Diocese of Rockford as the diocesan director of accounting in 1983 with responsibilities for overseeing all diocesan and parish accounting activities, as well as the diocese’s employee benefit functions.

In 1994 he earned a Ph.D. degree in administration and finance from Walden University in Minneapolis. In 1995, he was appointed Secretary for Finance and Administration by the late Bishop Thomas G. Doran.

“His credentials are superb, but even more than that, we know from experience that he’s much more than an accountant. His gif is that he looks at an entity, be it a parish, an office or the diocese itself—and focuses on determining how it can best fulfill its mission given the resources that it has,” Bishop Doran said at Lenell’s appointment.

And sometimes, Lenell says, existing resources provided the most challenging part of the job.

“The most challenging part of being the director of finance is trying to maximize the financial resources to accomplish the mission of the Church.  Ask any pastor, even one in a more affluent area, if he could provide more ministry opportunities if his parish had more money, and he will tell you that he could.  Pastors are trying to meet as many needs as they can with limited resources,” he said.

During his career, Lenell has also taught several classes at Seton Hall University and served as the president of the National Diocese Fiscal Managers Conference. He also organized a Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference for 20 years for diocesan parish business managers and administration employees.

“The retirement of Wayne is truly bittersweet,” Bishop David Malloy said.

“It is a sadness to lose a man with the experience, dedication and the excellence that has characterized Wayne and his work.  At the same time, one has to feel good when someone like Wayne, after 34 years, can leave the diocese with its financial accounting in such great shape.  He’s a good man and has been an excellent CFO.  May God grant him a happy retirement with good health for him and his family.”

Lenell confirms the financial fitness Bishop Malloy described to The Observer. “I am happy to report that the diocese has recently become debt free.  Roman 13:8 says, ‘Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.’  It is refreshing to know that the diocese has fulfilled that scripture in so many ways.”

And leaving the financial resources in capable hands is part of Lenell’s legacy as well.

“The most rewarding part of my 34 years of service has been to see the growth of people with whom I work.  Almost everyone in the Department of Financial and Administrative Services is working at a different position than where they started with much more responsibilities.  This attests to the level of caring and commitment by my coworkers,” he said.

Lenell is being succeeded by Jodi Rippon who has served as the assistant director of finance and administrative services since 1992. Being appointed to Rippon’s post as assistant director of finance is Lori Graber who comes to the position after serving as Fiscal Manager for Catholic Charities since 2006.

Leaving the diocese, Lenell plans “for a very slow descent in retirement.”

“I plan to continue working but maybe only 50 hours per week instead of 80 and then reduce it further as the years go by.  Relaxation is a term for which I hope to become familiar with some day,” he said.

Lenell and his wife Lynn, plan to relocate to Colorado to be close to family.