By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Sister Laura Goedken, O.P., said she always enjoyed “matching the wishes of donors with the needs of an organization.” That interest has benefited the Davenport Diocese for nearly a decade during which she strengthened the diocesan church’s financial health as its first development director. The 74-year-old Sinsinawa Dominican retired this month, with a send-off July 11 from diocesan staff who shared their gratitude in gifts, ice cream and testimonials.
They credit her with guiding the diocese through its largest capital campaign — $22 million — a crucial need for a church reeling from bankruptcy in the aftermath of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. She oversaw the return of the Annual Diocesan Appeal (ADA) to diocesan administration, which required building relationships parish by parish. She also established the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Davenport to foster financial viability for the future, among other initiatives.
“Since sister’s arrival, she has done a monumental job,” Bishop Martin Amos told The Catholic Messenger. “She brought us through a major capital campaign, helped parishes through an offertory enhancement program, streamlined the ADA, and helped parishes achieve their goals. What impresses me most is that for her this was not about money, it was about ministry to help ministries.”
As the diocese made its way out of bankruptcy, the hiring of a development director became a high priority, recalled Msgr. John Hyland, retired vicar general. In addition to coordinating the capital campaign successfully, Sr. Goedken helped parishes to achieve their ADA goals. She also worked closely with the Diocesan Stewardship Commission and was involved with parish planning. “Her leadership as our first development director will long be remembered. I wish her happiness in her retirement,” he said.
Sr. Goedken honed her leadership skills as a teacher and principal early on in her 56 years as a member of the Sinsinawa Dominicans, a religious community she joined just before she turned 18. She also served her community as director of development and communication at the motherhouse in Sinsinawa, Wis.
Afterwards, the Iowa native served as director of stewardship and development in the Diocese of Monterey, Calif. She returned to Iowa in 2004 where she served as director of evangelization and stewardship for the Iowa City parishes until 2008. That year, she accepted the post of development director for the Davenport Diocese.
Asked what gave her the greatest sense of satisfaction in her work as the diocese’s development director, Sr. Goedken said, “Setting up the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Davenport, doing the major capital campaign after the bankruptcy and working with parishes to help them meet their ADA goals.”
While she’d done a number of capital campaigns previously, the Davenport Diocese’s was different because of the need for capital as a result of the bankruptcy. It wasn’t a bricks and mortar project, which has more appeal to donors. “I continually explained why we needed the capital campaign and why we needed the money,” she said.
At the same time, she was also doing a lot of work for the Diocesan Pastoral Council, an advisory board to Bishop Amos that meets quarterly, and participating in the ongoing parish-planning process. That process was especially challenging.
“With fewer priests we had to figure out how we were going to serve the sacramental needs of the people. It took a while to get buy-in. We worked through that challenge by having the recommendations come from the local people.”
The Catholic Foundation is also the result of an effort to prepare for the future. “Our foundation will help support our diocese for many years to come,” Sr. Goedken says with pride. “We have approximately $11 million in assets in the foundation. Our board has eight lay people, the bishop and vicar general. The eight lay people represent all six of our deaneries.”
Sr. Goedken said her successor, Andy Gaertner, will do a terrific job. “Andy will do more major gift work, talking to donors who have the capability of giving more.
“There are an increasing number of people who have set up their own donor-advised fund or charitable trust and we need to have the diocese be one of the beneficiaries of those funds.”
She’s retiring now, she joked, “because I’m old and I’m tired. I have longed for many years to live with our sisters, but because of my ministry I’ve lived alone. I’m moving to Waukegan, Ill., and living with three sisters there and will volunteer in their social service ministries. I will connect with donors and also teach citizenship classes and English as a second language class.”
Dan Ebener, the Davenport Diocese’s director of Stewardship and Parish Planning, said Sr. Goedken “is a daily reminder of what a life of Christian stewardship
looks like. She works harder than anyone else around her and is always willing to take on even the most menial tasks or the most difficult of leadership roles. She keeps her focus on the building up of God’s kingdom and serves the church with great humility and wisdom. I will miss her greatly.”
Sister Laura Goedken, O.P.
Hometown: I grew up on a farm west of Monticello, Iowa. I’ve lived in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Wyoming and California.
Family: I have three sisters and two brothers left. Two brothers and my parents are deceased.
Entered religious life: 1959; she was just shy of her 18th birthday.
Why did you choose the Sinsinawa Dominicans? For their charism of preaching and teaching, and their ministry in schools and with families.