New director hopes to make pastors’ lives easier

Michele D. Kooiman is the new director of human resources for the archdiocese. She brings 30 years of experience working in telecommunications to her new position. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE BOLLIG

By Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When it came time to look for a new director of human resources for the archdiocese, the search committee knew what it was looking for.

The archdiocese needed a faithful Catholic, a fast learner, a dedicated professional and an all-around outstanding individual — with a proven record of competence.

Search committee members found that person in Michele D. Kooiman.

“She had a deep process background, and we knew that was essential,” said Carla Mills, chief financial officer for the archdiocese. “She had good qualifications in human resources in general.”

Just as importantly, continued Mills, “she’s a good fit for working in the chancery and with our parishes and institutions.”

That “good fit” means she has a certain personality suited to human resources: She is outgoing, a good listener, has the ability to process what she’s told quickly and approaches each situation with patience and empathy.

Kooiman thinks she’s found a good fit, too.

“It feels good to be here,” said Kooiman. “This is where I’m supposed to be right now. My prayer every day is, ‘Lord, let me be able to do the things that I’m supposed to do.’ There is a lot of work to be done. I hope that, every day, I can make positive impacts to accomplish those things.”

This is Kooiman’s first venture into the world of nonprofit organizations. She brings 30 years of experience working in telecommunications, mostly with Sprint Corporation of Overland Park.

“I have done a variety of things in human resources,” said Kooiman.

Kooiman is grateful for her career at Sprint and other companies, but she had reached a point in her life when she was looking for something new — hopefully, something that would involve her Catholic faith.

While at a professional event, a peer mentioned that the archdiocese needed a new human resources director and suggested to Kooiman she might be a good match.

“I told him I’d keep it in mind,” said Kooiman.

The next week she saw the notice in The Leaven and couldn’t stop thinking about it. She had to throw her hat in the ring.

“All the while praying I’d ultimately end up where I was supposed to be,” she said.

One step at a time, doors kept opening, until she got the nod. After attending a conference, her first day in the office as archdiocesan director of human resources was April 30.

“It’s a very broad job that covers a lot of topics,” said Kooiman. “We are here to ensure that policies and processes are in place and followed, according to federal and state employment laws. That’s one of our responsibilities. But we’re also here to ensure that our employees have good benefits.”

Human resources also works with things people don’t think much about, like job descriptions, compensation, hiring, payroll, vacation and sick day policies — everything that touches employees personally.

“It’s about protecting and supporting employees, our human resources, across the archdiocese,” she said. “We ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently.”

Human resources can be an indispensable help to pastors, too.

“One of the thing that appealed to me about this job is helping pastors,” she said. “Priests, when they go to the seminary, do not learn about business administration. Their education is in theology. They’re not necessarily trained on how to run parishes, and that’s a big job.

“So, I view it as doing whatever we can do to make their lives easier, more streamlined, more efficient, so they can concentrate on ministry.”

One difference between the corporate world and working for the church is the strong role faith plays in her work. Salvation of people — not the profit margin — is the greater purpose.

“What we do, every decision we make and every interaction we have with every person, our faith is on our heart, mind and souls,” she said. “There is lots of fulfillment in that.”

As she settled into her new role, Kooiman has come to appreciate the work of her predecessor Kathleen Thomas.

“She laid a phenomenal foundation in human resources here,” said Kooiman.

That foundation includes getting policies documented for the retirement and pension plans for both lay employees and priests, an employee handbook, job descriptions, pay grades, and sick and vacation policies.

“Her last big effort was moving us into automation of a standardized human resources system for pay and benefits, and that is no small undertaking,” she said. “She has done all that and built a great team. I’m so thankful every day for the staff we have.”

Kooiman deeply appreciates the relationships Thomas has built with pastors and administrators across the archdiocese, and she’s also appreciative of the way the handoff has been done. This sort of thing is rare in the corporate world.

“I am extremely grateful that I’ve had the benefit of having [Thomas] here for a couple of months during this transition before she retires,” said Kooiman.

The work of human resources is ongoing, and many challenges await Kooiman and her colleagues.

“I have a goal to continue evolving our policies and processes internally in human resources,” she said. “One of our challenges is that we are resource-challenged, and there is so much work to be done.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to be as efficient as possible, while at the same time always remaining compassionate.”

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