SAN DIEGO — Mark Fisher has stepped down after five years as the Diocese of San Diego’s chief financial officer.
His successor, Shirley Pajanor, is the first woman appointed to that position in the diocese’s almost 83-year history. She previously served for 11 years as diocesan controller.
For Fisher, the decision to step down at this time was an easy one.
“A diocesan finance officer serves a canonical term of five years, and my five years is up,” said Fisher, 59, whose tenure as head of the diocesan Office for Finance and Accounting included successful efforts to increase transparency and accountability.
Under his watch, detailed financial reports on diocesan operations have been made easily accessible online. A new standardized accounting system was created for all parishes and schools, which also began receiving more support and oversight from the diocese.
Fisher, who brought to the CFO position almost three decades of experience in the energy industry, also spearheaded a solar power initiative in the diocese. Since 2014, solar systems have been installed at Cathedral Catholic High School, Mater Dei Catholic High School, the Pastoral Center and about 50 parishes, resulting in increased use of renewable energy as well as substantial financial savings.
Before joining the diocesan staff, Fisher had worked as a financial executive for San Diego Gas & Electric and then later for its parent company, Sempra Energy.
Among other things, it was the prospect of “serving God, helping build His kingdom here on earth, [and] doing something that was rewarding” that attracted Fisher to the diocese’s CFO position.
The Finance and Accounting Office’s work might not seem as obviously spiritual as that of other diocesan offices. But, Fisher said, “It’s a ministry, just a different type of ministry.”
“Mostly what we are is a service organization, just like the other offices here at the diocese,” he added.
Fisher, whose official last day was June 28, described his successor as “very capable and ready.”
“I am very thrilled and truly grateful for Bishop’s trust in me,” said Pajanor, 37, who assumed the CFO position on July 1 and had been invited by Bishop Robert W. McElroy to consider it.
Born in Illinois to Indian immigrant parents, she spent her formative years in India, later returned to the United States with her family, and graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting.
After her graduation in 2004, Pajanor worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), where she audited Fortune 500 companies. After more than four years there, she decided that she “needed something with more meaning” and was “looking for a change” when the controller position opened up at the Diocese of San Diego.
Perhaps only a week into her job as controller, she realized that working for the Church would be different from her previous experience in the secular world.
For someone who had encountered rudeness and raised voices from those she had audited, she said, it was “absolutely shocking” when she found herself discussing a financial matter with a priest over the phone and he concluded the call with, “Oh, God bless you, my dear.”
“It was a true gift getting this position, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance,” she said of her work as diocesan controller.
In moving from controller to CFO, she said she has traded the “granular level” of diocesan finances for the bigger picture. She plans to meet with pastors to better under-stand their needs and to learn how her office might better serve them.