After 11 years as the chief financial officer for the Diocese of Nashville, Bill Whalen has announced he will retire at the end of June.
“I am grateful for Bill’s financial leadership and expertise, especially his practical financial guidance over the years and his steady oversight of our diocesan corporations,” said Bishop J. Mark Spalding. “I thank him for his dedication, loyalty and leadership. And I wish him well with his new opportunity.”
Whalen joined the diocese in July 2011 and has served under both the late Bishop David R. Choby and Bishop Spalding.
“With both legal and financial prowess, Bill has been invaluable in helping the diocese and our pastors and parishes grow and prosper over a decade of compelling service,” said Brian L. Cooper, chancellor and chief operating officer of the diocese.
During his tenure with the diocese, Whalen has had a front-row seat to witness the diocese’s impressive growth, and in several cases has provided a helping hand to make that growth happen. Being part of that growth has been one of the accomplishments he’s most proud of, and one “that took on many facets,” Whalen said.
Bishop Choby named Whalen as chief financial officer in July 2011 after he had served as chair of the diocesan Finance Board and on the board’s Investment Committee.
One of the first tasks Bishop Choby assigned him was to find a new home for diocesan offices to replace the old Catholic Center on 21st Avenue South, as well as a new location for the Sagrado Corazon Hispanic Ministry Center. That eventually led to the 2014 purchase of the former Two Rivers Baptist Church overlooking Briley Parkway and converting it to the diocese’s current Catholic Pastoral Center.
Bishop Choby’s vision was to bring all the diocesan offices under one roof, Whalen said. “At the time, we had 170 people in seven locations. “
The bishop also wanted a facility big enough to have a worship space that could accommodate at least 2,000 people for Sagrado Corazon, which was quickly outgrowing the space it inhabited then, Whalen explained.
The Catholic Pastoral Center, which is 226,000 square feet on 35 acres, includes the Sagrado Corazon worship space that can seat more than 3,000 people, he noted.
“He thought the location was fantastic,” Whalen said of Bishop Choby. Situated across Briley Parkway from the Opryland Resort and Convention Center, the Catholic Pastoral Center has several advantages, Whalen said: it has easy access to the area’s interstates, is close to the Nashville International Airport, and is more centrally located within the diocese.
“This has been a wonderful growth opportunity for the diocese,” Whalen said of the development of the Catholic Pastoral Center. It provides opportunities, such as the annual Chrism Mass, for the entire diocese to come together, he added.
‘It’s been very rewarding’
The Catholic Pastoral Center wasn’t the only facility project Whalen has helped bring to fruition. He was part of the team that worked to help establish two new churches in the diocese – Mother Teresa Church in Nolensville and St. Peter the Apostle Church in Carthage – and build seven major new facilities including five churches: The Church of the Nativity in Thompsons Station, St. Luke Church in Smyrna, St. Frances Cabrini Church in Lebanon, the Church of the Korean Martyrs in Donelson, and Holy Family Church in Lafayette. He also had a hand in completing significant expansions at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville and St. Anthony Church in Fayetteville and a long list of other projects, Whalen said. The Catholic community has supported more than $30 million in new facilities during his tenure, he said.
“It’s absolutely one of the most rewarding parts of the job,” Whalen said of working on the various building projects. “You can actually see the outcome of your efforts and the positive impact on the parishioners.”
Those projects also gave him the opportunity to work closely with parishes and priests around the diocese. “It’s been very rewarding to develop my personal relationships with the parish priests,” Whalen said. “They’re all men of God who bring the message of Our Lord to all of us. It’s been very gratifying to help them serve their parish.”
Whalen will leave the diocese in good financial health. “Over these years, we’ve managed to put the diocese on sound financial footing.”
“The two things I did that had the most impact was to fully understand and appreciate all the various financial funds across the diocese and to leverage them for their greatest value and benefit,” Whalen said.
He worked with the diocese’s Investment Committee to change the investment strategy “to significantly increase our returns on investments,” Whalen added. “And the timing was fortuitous,” he said, noting the strong stock market during his tenure.
The impact for the diocese’s deposit and loan fund, the Catholic Community Investment and Loan Inc., has been significant. The fund “moved away from a traditional banking model to more of an endowment model, and as a result we’ve been able to provide market-like returns to our depositors,” which include the churches and schools of the diocese, Whalen said.
“Most of our invested funds are not used for operations,” Whalen said. “They’re used for opportunities.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Whalen and his staff were able to help churches in the diocese apply for grants through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Those grants helped the churches weather the pandemic without cutting staff, he said.
‘Interest in service to people’
Whalen was born and grew up in Detroit, the third oldest of eight children in the family. The Catholic faith “was part of the lifeblood of the family,” he said. “It wasn’t something you thought about, it was just something you lived.”
“I’ve always had an interest in service to people and caring for people,” Whalen said. “The Catholic Church nurtured that as a child.”
His parents instilled in him a strong work ethic, he said.
Whalen attended Catholic schools through high school and graduated from the University of Detroit, a Jesuit university, with degrees in math, physics, accounting and teacher education. After working for a year as a teacher and coach at a Catholic high school in Detroit, Whalen returned to school to earn a master of business administration degree with an emphasis on finance and accounting from Stanford University.
He returned to the Detroit area, where he worked as a management consultant for non-profit organizations, ran the country’s largest volunteer income tax assistance program, taught classes at the University of Detroit and the University of Michigan, and became a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Management Accountant.
Whalen’s next stop was Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to earn a law degree. After law school, he worked for General Motors in the legal department for more than nine years, handling a wide variety of legal matters, including litigation.
He and his wife, Carol, moved their family to Los Angeles when he took a job leading a section of the legal department for Nissan North America. During his nearly 20 years working for Nissan, he served as assistant general counsel, director of sales operations for the Infiniti Division, and director of legal for Nissan Canada.
When Nissan moved its headquarters from California to Franklin, Tennessee, in 2006, Whalen was in charge of relocating the legal department. He settled in Hendersonville and is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church.
Since moving to Tennessee, he has also been an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt Law School.
He retired from Nissan in 2011 to take the position of chief financial officer for the diocese.
Whalen is retiring now to pursue the next step in his career, running for public office. He is a candidate for an open seat for Sumner County General Sessions Judge.
Unlike any other job he’s had, working for the diocese has allowed Whalen to use all his skills, training and experience, he said, including being a lawyer, accountant, consultant and business executive, all in service of the Church.
“I have greatly enjoyed working for the Church under both Bishops Choby and Spalding,” Whalen said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to be of service and proud of all that has been accomplished over the past 11 years. God gave me a marvelous gift when he opened the door to serve the diocese.”