John Burgess left his home in Wisconsin where he and his wife lived for 34 years to take a job in Arizona, a state he felt would surely run out of water.
His big country home, warmed each winter with a wood-heating apparatus, echoed for decades with the cluck of chickens, the bleat of goats and snort of pigs.
Burgess, the former president of a not-for-profit, multi-service mental health agency, gave up his green acres for the Valley of the Sun as director of diocesan development in the Office of Stewardship.
He said he believes his 34 years of experience with the former human family services organization that served 10,000 people annually is the perfect segue into his new job.
The agency, Family and Children’s Center in La Crosse, Wis., offered services which ran the gamut of child abuse prevention classes for parents with newborns, residential treatment centers for children with behavioral issues, assisting single adults with mental illness to providing a continuum of care in foster/group and residential homes for children.
“You name it, we did it. It was womb to tomb,” Burgess said.
What started with only 30 employees grew to 300, with an operating budget of over $14 million and regional offices located in La Crosse, Viroqua and Black River Falls, Wis., and Winona and Rochester, Minn.
During the last seven years with the agency, Burgess, 58, focused his efforts on learning and understanding development.
“I decided I wanted to help organizations advance their missions with fund development,” he said, “and in order to gain support of donors who can make a difference, it’s important to know the whole process.”
As his job shifted from forming relationships to supporting the organization, Burgess said he felt confident leaving his successor, with whom he worked for 16 years, a $4 million endowment.
“In a lot of ways, the Charity and Development Appeal supports a lot of human service programs,” he said. “I’m excited to be working in a faith-based setting. I want my faith to inform my actions and leadership.”
Admittedly, it was a big life change with challenges. Back in his home state, Burgess was well known among his colleagues, civic leaders and not-for-profit organizations.
In an effort to embrace all things new, he shaved.
“I had to lose the mustache. Too many gray hairs,” he mused.
Burgess said he will draw on his experience with fund development in his new diocesan role because it’s important that “donors know we are making the best use of their precious donated dollars.”
In a broader sense, Burgess wants stewardship to become second nature in parishes, and not a once-a-year concentrated effort.
“We want to invite every parishioner to live a life of stewardship,” he said “It’s a beautiful message.”
Burgess and his wife, who have three grown children, are walking distance from their new parish home, St. Patrick Parish in Scottsdale.
As he reflected on his new life, he said it’s important for people to understand that how they live directly affects those around them.
“We want to instill that attitude of stewardship and help people understand it’s really how we live our daily lives; in our parish community and in the world around us,” Burgess said.
Carrie Aranda, director of parish engagement in the Office of Stewardship, will help spread the message of charity and love by providing stewardship resources for parishes, and assisting them with the annual CDA appeal.
“CDA is a small portion of what our office does,” Aranda said, “but it’s our most visible sign.”
Part of her focus will be on the larger educational events like stewardship retreats and council orientations, in addition to working in conjunction with pastoral, finance, and stewardship councils at the parishes.
Aranda, who has been with the diocese for the past 11 years, previously worked in parish ministry, the diocesan human resources office and more recently as the CDA coordinator.
She said she is looking forward to working in tandem with Burgess to help parishes embrace the message of stewardship, which is discipleship.
“The main focus is to serve parishes; capital campaigns, addressing stewardship councils, assisting offertory programs, that in turn go and serve others,” she said.
Aranda, a third-generation Arizonan, attended Ss. Simon and Jude elementary school and St. Mary’s High School.
She and her husband, a parish musician, have three children and reside in Mesa.