Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
When Michael J. McGee, chief financial officer of the Diocese of Richmond, approached Deacon Paul Mahefky in late 2011 about becoming the diocese’s first director of real estate, the deacon was reluctant to accept.
On Friday, March 22, Deacon Mahefky retired from that position. He and his wife are moving to Colorado Springs, Colo., but will spend summers sailing in Maine.
“I’m always looking for crew for sailing,” he added.
Deacon Mahefky had retired in 1997 when his company, Bay Scale, was bought out. He and Diane, his wife of 48 years, had been living in Richmond since 2009 as they were helping their daughter with her three still-in-diapers children while her husband, an Apache helicopter pilot, was on assignment. They were preparing to return to Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, where they had built a house and he was building shopping centers.
He recalled telling McGee, “Mike, I haven’t worn a tie in 10 years. I don’t even know if I’m going to like working. I’ll do it for six months, and if I don’t like it, there’s no hard feelings. And if you don’t like me, there’s no hard feelings. But I really don’t know if I want to work in an institution.”
Deacon Mahefky, who was ordained for the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., in 2007, noted that he had never worked for an institution.
“This is foreign to me. I buy companies and run companies,” he remembered telling the CFO.
McGee said the diverse nature of the properties owned by the parishes and diocese necessitated hiring a person to oversee real estate.
“I was hearing many requests from pastors for assistance with buying properties, selling properties, leases and renovation projects,” McGee said about the need to have someone qualified to handle real estate. “It was apparent that the (finance) office was not staffed to adequately respond to the requests being made.”
At that time Deacon Mahefky was assisting St. Benedict School with a renovation project.
“I saw how his skill and experience were able to add value,” McGee said.
Deacon Mahefky saw the job as an opportunity to combine his faith and ministerial formation with business skills to “give something to the Church.”
“It was a gift, it really was, to do this kind of work for the Church,” he said. “Because that was my skill set. It was like God had me in training. Don’t think God doesn’t know what he’s doing. It was a great faith builder to me. It was a gift.”
Deacon Mahefky estimated he was involved in at least 200 deals involving parishes, schools, cemeteries and diocesan properties. Wherever he went, he was deacon and businessman.
“I’d be in places out in the field where the diocese had rented to a secular group and gave them the building. And I said, ‘Well, we need to start this meeting in prayer.’
“’Oh, deacon, we can’t pray because we take government funds.’
“And I said, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.’ I mean, I was evangelizing the whole way through.”
Deacon Mahefky did not hesitate to hold those involved in real estate deals to Gospel values, including Catholic entities.
“I would say, ‘The secular world does real estate their way, but we live the Gospel, and if I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it,’” he said.
When Church personnel would say, “Oh, deacon, we can’t show what we found out’s wrong with the property,” he’d set them straight.
“I said, ‘No, this is the Church. We’re showing them everything. We’re totally transparent here. We’re hiding nothing. If I see that person at Food Lion, I’m shaking their hand.’”
When it came to church renovations, Deacon Mahefky had a goal.
“I moved 27 tabernacles back into the sanctuary, and that’s my legacy. They didn’t know it; it was a hidden agenda,” he said, referring to restoring churches to how they were originally designed to look.
During his first 14 months as head of the Diocese of Richmond, Bishop Barry C. Knestout has seen and heard about the work of Deacon Mahefky.
“As I travel around the Diocese, I’ve seen the impact of Deacon Paul’s assistance reflected in the numerous construction projects underway at our parishes and schools,” the bishop said. “It’s been mentioned to me on several occasions that his knowledge in building and construction and real estate was a tremendous asset to our pastors and building committees. His care and love for Christ’s Church is most notably visible in projects to beautify our parishes.”
In acknowledging the deacon’s service to the diocese, Bishop Knestout expressed gratitude for Deacon Mahefky’s “efforts to directly manage the renovation of the bishop’s residence at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart,” which was completed earlier this year.
Deacon Mahefky has advice for the person who will take over his responsibilities.
“Pray a lot. Pray every day. Go to Mass as often as you can. That helped a whole lot,” he said. “Pray before you go to every job site. I would always pray, say a rosary before every one I went into and asked God what I was supposed to do.”