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Wisdom For Every Generation: Interview with Mary Hernandez

Mary Hernandez is the Executive Director of Advancement for Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Student Center at the University of Louisiana – Lafayette. Mary is an alum of UL and was a member of the parish prior to receiving an invitation by Fr. Bryce Sibley to help with a fundraising project. Mary accepted and turned a temporary assignment into a full-time position running communications and eventually the development program. In their conversation, Mary and Andrew discuss how the growth of the ministry really spurred growth in their development efforts and how a long-term vision for serving the students of UL has led them to launch a $22M capital campaign to build a new student center.

Show Notes:

  • Mary’s first job after graduating from University of Louisiana – Lafayette was as a high school teacher. She left that job and went to work for the university in recruitment and orientation. Mary left the job so she could stay home with her children but went back to work when Fr. Bryce Sibley called and asked her to help with a big event at Our Lady of Wisdom.
  • Mary worked in Communications for OLOW for a number of years before moving into the role of Director of Development.
  • One of Mary’s early solicitations was with a long-time donor named Kirby. Mary presented Kirby with a large request and he agreed. A few weeks later, Kirby personally thanked Mary for all the work that she was doing and for asking him to take a larger role in development. This demonstrated to Mary that donors are thankful to be invited to give.
  • A friend of Mary once referred to her as the “Minister of Finance” for the work that she does to minister to donors and for her role as a true part of the Ragin Cajun Catholic ministry.
  • Fr. Bryce Sibley’s favorite quote is “No money, no mission.” Fr. Bryce is a visionary and pushes the others on staff to be bold and think bigger. This moved Mary to be mindful of the financial health of the ministry and ensure that gifts and donors are appropriately stewarded.
  • Our Lady of Wisdom converted databases a few years ago and now uses Salesforce to manage their mailing list and giving history. They have 20,000 records but primarily communicate with their “All Givers List” which is approximately 5,000 individuals who have given in the past 5-7 years. They apply additional segments depending on the purpose of the mailing. They send out 3-5 appeals per year.
  • OLOW has a very active social media presence but have to change their strategy every 12-18 months to adapt to the changing platforms. Their primary focus is to communicate with the students of UL but alumni, parents and donors are cultivated because this content demonstrates the active nature of the ministry.
  • “The best development work that we can do is to have a strong ministry.”
  • Fr. Bryce and the staff was interested in exploring a capital campaign to build a new church and student center. They approached their Leadership Council to start discussing a project and the Council surprised them by voting unanimously to start a campaign immediately. They approached their local bishop and he invited them to be a part of the diocesan-wide centennial capital campaign. This ensured that they would have $5M toward their building project.
  • They have currently secured $9.2M toward the $22M goal but have taken a slight pause while they work to secure land for the new facility.
  • OLOW has an in-house coffee shop. They were managing the coffee shop for a while but it got to be too much to sustain. Fr. Bryce closed the coffee shop to search for and identify a good partner to manage it properly. Their goal is for the coffee shop to be revenue neutral so that it can be strictly an evangelization tool and not a money maker.

Recommended books:

Searching for and Maintaining Peace – Fr. Jacques Philippe

Conducting a Successful Capital Campaign – Kent Dove

For more information about Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center or to connect with Mary, visit or email her at [email protected].


Giving to religious causes vastly exceeds any other category in the nonprofit sector, but faith-based organizations often struggle the most with fundraising effectively. Join Andrew Robison, President of Petrus Development, as he explores this topic through honest and revealing conversations with church leaders, executive directors and development professionals from the nonprofit community.


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