Since being appointed St. Mary Mokena’s business manager last spring, Stephen Warunek has faced more challenges in a few months than some managers face in 10 years.
In that time, Stephen successfully managed both the transition to virtual Masses during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the transition back to in-person Masses, with all the state and diocesan safety considerations that entailed. In addition, he worked with St. Mary School to ensure students were able to return to a safe, in-person learning atmosphere this Fall. Beyond this, he is overseeing a parish-wide renovation project beginning with the Parish Hall remodel.
Talk about trial by fire.
Throughout all these challenges, Stephen has remained humble and dedicated to his mission of helping the families of St. Mary. As a lifelong Catholic himself, Stephen tries to live out the Gospel every day in his role as business manager.
“Stephen is a servant leader,” says Father Dindo Billote, pastor of St. Mary. “He has a good and compassionate heart like Jesus but is very prudent and conservative in managing the finances of St. Mary Parish. It has been awesome working with Stephen! He gets the job done well!”
Father Mark Bernhard, parochial vicar at St. Mary had his own comment on Stephen: “It’s great to have Stephen around in the office; I especially enjoy walking over to the gym with him for a break and kicking his butt in basketball.”
Get to know Stephen by reading the following interview:
What is your professional background?
“I began my professional career as an law clerk at the Law Offices of Rinella and Rinella, LTD. and worked my way up the “ladder” to become the Director of Finance and Administration over the course of my 22-year tenure. I handled all the accounting/financials for the firm and oversaw all human resource matters. For 15 years I was also involved at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, where I assisted in forming nonprofit organizations and oversaw parts of the financials for the parish as a volunteer. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Criminal Justice from Governors State University.”
Why did you decide to work at a catholic parish?
“Much of my early interest in the law came from wanting to help the less fortunate. Through my volunteer work at St. John Cantius, I saw a lot of low-income individuals face really high stakes in the justice system. You can lose your children, your home, and your livelihood without having the means to afford legal help to get you through these types of complicated legal proceedings.
“I saw how the law could protect and defend those in need. Helping assist other attorneys with pro bono work through the church was one of my most rewarding experiences that made me want to work at a Catholic parish. I was ecstatic when God and the Holy Spirit led me to St. Mary! I feel very privileged to have the chance to help people every day, especially the children at St. Mary School. I get to be deeply immersed in a place where people support each other, encourage each other, challenge each other, and serve one another.”
covid happened shortly after you started. How hard was the transition?
“Starting any new job comes with its own set of challenges, even in normal circumstances. My role pivoted to focus more on Covid-related initiatives. One of the most difficult challenges I faced was trying to offer some sort of financial assistance to families who had lost income due to the pandemic to ensure no family was deterred from getting a Catholic education.
“Another ongoing challenge is keeping everything going knowing our collections are down and our school enrollment has taken a dip. I am finding ways to make sure everything is taken care of now and in the future.”
How did you overcome the early challenges from covid?
“I work with such great people who I have relied on and who have helped me, especially during my first few months. Thankfully, we have strong and generous parishioners who support one another in times of need and also see the value in a Catholic education for our youth. This has been a time of great transition, which is why I made it my focus to ensure parishioners could stay connected to their faith whether through live streaming and/or in-person worship services. We must stay strong as a parish and school. We must make sure no one is left behind that is seeking God and the Holy Spirit.”
What are your goals for the parish moving forward?
“I look forward to getting to know more parishioners, addressing their needs, and serving our community. My primary goal is to continue to grow the parish and reach our full potential. A shorter-term goal of mine is to finish the lower-level Church Hall renovations so that multiple ministries such as the Knights of Columbus, CCW and the Youth Groups can use the same space at the same time. This is important as ministries create a pathway through which community and relationship-based discipleship can take place.
“I also hope to coordinate and grow the school’s strategic fundraising activities through alumni participation and events which is a great way to make an immediate difference for our students. When the Church Hall is complete, I will finish the final push for the capital campaign so we can start the larger project and make the church more glorious.”
What role does the catholic faith play in your life?
“Religion has always been a big part of my life, and I think it largely shaped me into who I am today. I grew up in a very Catholic household and attended Catholic school growing up. Both my parents worked hard to afford Catholic school, but it allowed me to grow up with a strong relationship with God. Without my parents and their guidance in life, I would not be where I am today.
“The faith has shaped my morals and how I think about things. I consider it a guide for how to live my life. The most important thing from where I sit is to be a good father, a good partner, and a good dad – a man who helps his fellow man and raises his daughter to be a good human being. Every aspect of my family life is joy.”
what do you do outside of work?
“My daughter and I are huge Chicago White Sox, Blackhawks, Bears and Bulls fans, and we love watching the games together. Yes, you did read correctly, I did not list Chicago’s minor league team, the Cubs.
“I enjoy participating in Father Mark’s Fit Shepherds, where he combines a workout with teaching about the Word of God. I am also a founder of a sports memorabilia and collectibles (i.e. Cards, Coins, Art) startup company that focuses on merchandise consignment to retailers and individuals. I am always looking to buy any collectibles, so just let me know, and I will make you an offer you can’t refuse.”