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Bob Doerfler, longtime diocesan finance officer, retires after 43 years

By VERONICA AMBUUL
07/03/2020 | Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS. Diocese of Colorado Springs Finance Officer Bob Doerfler, who has a combined 43 years of service to Divine Redeemer Parish and the diocese, retired June 5. Doerfler worked side by side with Bishop Emeritus Richard Hanifen to establish the diocese’s finance and accounting operations when it was created in 1984.

Doerfler is a native of Baltimore who moved to Colorado Springs in October 1976, shortly after graduating from Loyola College with a degree in business administration.

“During my college years, I kind of fell in love with Colorado, and I had a friend who was working out here. I actually thought I was going to run a ski lodge one day,” Doerfler recalled in an interview with The Colorado Catholic Herald.

However, Doerfler’s career went in a different direction after he began volunteering in the youth ministry program at Divine Redeemer Parish. After several months, he was hired as Divine Redeemer’s director of youth ministry. A few months later, Doerfler married his wife Shelly, who was also a Baltimore native.

When Divine Redeemer’s business manager retired, Doerfler was asked by then-pastor Father Omer Foxhoven to fill the position. Doerfler also earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

In 1983, Bishop Hanifen asked Doerfler to serve on the finance council that was being formed in anticipation of Colorado Springs being established as its own diocese in January 1984. Once the diocese was officially established, parish properties and other assets from the Archdiocese of Denver and the Diocese of Pueblo were transferred to the fledgling diocese.

Bishop Hanifen then began a nationwide search for a lay person who could fill the role of diocesan finance officer, even advertising the job in the Wall Street Journal. Doerfler — who was just 30 years old at the time — applied and was hired.

Initially, the Archdiocese of Denver continued to support all of the accounting, finance and insurance functions for Colorado Springs — an arrangement Doerfler assumed would continue. But shortly after being named finance officer, he received the unsettling news that the archdiocese would no longer provide those services.

“I was in shock,” after the meeting in Denver during which archdiocesan officials told him that the Diocese of Colorado Springs was now going to be responsible for all of its own financial operations, Doerfler recalled.

“I remember the 70-mile drive back down here. I talked to our accountant and said, ‘I guess we just roll up our sleeves and make it happen.’”

In one respect, however, the abrupt change was an opportunity for the diocese to be ahead of its time. In the mid-1980s, most large organizations were using mainframe computers to store and process their data. But at the suggestion of a friend who worked in information technology at Penrose Hospital, Doerfler decided to go a different route.

“We decided that we didn’t want to go into a mainframe system. Personal computers were taking off” and they would be a more affordable option, Doerfler said. Using eight-inch floppy disks, data was transferred from the archdiocese’s mainframe machine to personal computers at the diocesan offices.

“We took on all of the health insurance programs, parish accounting, the bishop’s appeal and everything else and put them on personal computers,” Doerfler said.

Jim Browne, who was hired as the diocese’s first manager of information technology in 1984, said that he admired Doerfler’s leadship in confronting the challenges faced in the diocese’s early years.

“Bob has a natural talent for finance and accounting,” Browne said. “Having worked as a parish business manager, he had a good feel for the issues in parishes. He also has a talent for getting along with diverse groups of people.”

Terri Sortor, who worked for the diocese from the time of its founding until her retirement in 2018, said that she appreciated Doerfler’s firm faith and trust in God.

“I remember one time when the computer server was having trouble, and he lit candles and prayed,” Sortor said. “He was not afraid of the unknown and did a lot of very innovative things. I think Bob’s ability to think through issues and to think long-term put us on the right path.”

“He was an outstanding, detailed, smart, honest and faith-filled man who provided strong leadership and decision-making for our new, underfunded diocese,” said Sue Brown, who was a diocesan employee for 23 years before retiring in 2009 as manager of insurance and benefits. “It was always a challenge moving to the next step, whether it was personnel, equipment, databases, property, medical and other benefits, pension plans, insurance, etc. I believe Bob will leave a lasting impact because of the detailed procedures, documentation, professional reviews, updates and careful, continual oversight he put in place. He left a solid foundation of doing things right with tough decisions. He was always approachable, willing to listen, and considerate of others.”

 “Bob has been a pillar of the Catholic Church in Colorado Springs for two generations,” said Bishop Michael Sheridan. “Together with Bishop Hanifen, Bob helped to give birth to this local church, and he has nurtured it into adulthood. We will be forever grateful to him.”


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