by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was never just about the money.
In her 14 years with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, Lesle Knop raised a lot of money as executive director of the office of stewardship and development and the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas.
But that wasn’t the point.
“It’s not the money; it’s what the money allows us to do as church,” said Knop. “Giving people an opportunity to give is a gift. I learned it from the Little Sisters of the Lamb. Asking for a gift gives dignity to the person who may not have thought about giving before.”
Each person has something to give because God has blessed them in many ways.
“Helping to support a parish, school or Catholic ministry is a joy,” she said. “I know there are donors who experience that joy when they see the fruits of their gifts blossom.”
Knop has made a lot of joy possible.
“Under her leadership, the annual appeal of the Archbishop’s Call to Share has more than doubled — from less than $3 million to over $6 million currently,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
“Lesle has been the leader of our current capital campaign ‘One Faith, One Family, One Future . . . in Christ,’” he added. “Under her leadership, the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas has grown its assets to exceed $100 million.”
On Oct. 30, Lesle welcomed her successor Bill Maloney, and began a transition period that will end on Jan. 1.
“What a joyful experience that has been in my life,” said Knop. “I’m so grateful I was hired, that the Holy Spirit led me to this task. It has influenced my life and the lives of my children and my siblings. The impact of my time working for the Catholic Church has been like ripples in a pond; the circles keep expanding — the joy, the grace, all the things God has blessed me with.”
Knop is a fifth-generation Kansan and a lifelong Catholic. She and her husband Doug are members of Holy Trinity Parish in Paola. They have five adult children and 10 grandchildren.
During Knop’s steady rise, she has been a reporter, editor and columnist for the Olathe Daily News; vice president of the Olathe Medical Center Charitable Foundation; and Olathe Medical Center director of marketing and wellness.
She was an assistant professor for the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas and was a member of the graduate faculty. She was also the coordinator of the Arts Council of Johnson County at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park.
Knop holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Kansas City Art Institute and a master’s degree in journalism with a specialty in integrated marketing communication from the University of Kansas. She’s a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and earned the executive certificate in religious fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis.
Knop was recuperating at home from a motorcycle accident when she was inspired by a television biography of St. Teresa of Calcutta to serve the church. Not long afterward, she learned the archdiocese was looking for a new leader of the CFNEK and stewardship office. She was hired in 2006.
“I had an opportunity to apply for the position and it was like a dream come true,” said Knop.
The reasons for Knop’s success and enormous influence go beyond experience, credentials and degrees.
“Lesle is one of the most passionate, talented, joyful and enthusiastic people that I have ever met,” said Father John Riley, archdiocesan chancellor. “She loves her family and her faith deeply. Her love for the church is what makes her such a joyful witness to the faith and to Christian stewardship.
“Professionally speaking, she is extremely skilled in promoting stewardship and development for the church and the church’s many important works of charity and evangelism.”
Archbishop Naumann, too, has appreciated all that she brought to her role.
“Lesle’s greatest talents and skills are her intelligence, her enthusiasm, her hard work and dedication, and her joy,” he said. “She brings a sense of joy and enthusiasm to everything in which she is involved.
“She has the ability to attract other talented leaders to serve on the [CFNEK] board and she helps to empower her staff, as well as the boards on which she serves, to be able to use their gifts and talents for the good of the church.”
Chris Arth, general counsel for the archdiocese, got to know Knop when he was the parish administrator at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood. She frequently advised the parish about fundraising and stewardship.
“She was always confident, always smiling,” said Arth. “She was a pleasure to work with. It’s what made her successful. She always wanted to help. It’s clear she was a resource for the parishes, trying to make them successful.”
Knop’s ability to identify talent and to work with people were important skills.
“She really taught me about the importance of building relationships with people and getting to know the people you work with, interact [with] and serve, getting to know them and who they are,” said Michaela Comstock, development and communications coordinator for St. Ann Parish and School in Prairie Village. She used to work for Knop at the archdiocese.
“She’s authentic,” said Comstock. “She lives and breathes her ministry. She gives a beautiful example of living her faith.”
In her retirement, Knop hopes to paint, play piano, garden, sew, volunteer for the church and spend more time with her husband and their grandchildren.
“I don’t know,” she said. “The Holy Spirit will guide me.”