New director of development ‘all in’ on bishop’s vision, mission of Peoria Diocese
Dan Onderko has many reasons for being excited about his new role as director of development for the Diocese of Peoria. But one holds a special claim on his heart.
“When I first started researching Peoria, I learned about the Five Foundations — vocations, the Eucharist, evangelization, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and discipleship — and that really spoke to me,” he told The Catholic Post, referring to Bishop Louis Tylka’s goals for building a vibrant, mission-drive church.
While he’s “all in” on that mission, it’s Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen that is special to his family, which includes his wife, Rhapsody, and children John, 14; Max Kolbe, 11; Dominic, 9; Maria, 2, and Michaela, 1.
Onderko shared that Michaela had been very ill and was hospitalized for three weeks in January. “We prayed for (Sheen’s) intercession during that time,” he said.
The youngest member of the Onderko family is doing great now and they are all looking forward to their move from Tyler, Texas, to central Illinois this summer. In fact, John is already enrolled at Peoria Notre Dame High School, and Max Kolbe and Dominic will go to St. Jude School in Peoria this fall.
“We’re very excited. It’s going to be a great transition,” said Onderko, who is currently the executive director of the East Texas Catholic Foundation. He explained that the foundation supports the Diocese of Tyler by managing endowments and planned giving.
His appointment as director of development for the Diocese of Peoria was announced April 11 by Bishop Tylka. He succeeds Debbie Benz, who had served as director of the Office of Stewardship and Development from 2019 to 2022.
“In this role I look at it as where do you need help and support? I’m all in on this mission and these Five Foundations. How can I help you find the generous people in the community to help support that?” Onderko said.
He knows it takes trust and time.
“It’s a gift that God has given me and the experience I’ve had throughout my career, so it seems like a good fit,” he said.
SERVING CHURCH IS KEY
Onderko and his wife are very strong in their faith and have a strong desire to share it with others. That goes beyond teaching theology to helping form and grow disciples by reaching out to everyone — neighbors, friends and coworkers, among others.
“In this role I look at it as where do you need help and support? I’m all in on this mission and these Five Foundations. How can I help you find the generous people in the community to help support that?” — Dan Onderko
Originally from Oregon, Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry. He would go on to earn a master’s of education and a master’s of business administration, both from the University of Tyler in Texas.
Rhapsody, who is from the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, earned a bachelor’s degree in theology and catechesis. She went back to school to earn a master’s degree in nursing and has been working as a clinical instructor in nursing at the University of Texas in Tyler.
The Onderkos moved to Texas after they were married 15 years ago so he could accept a job teaching chemistry and physics at Bishop Gorman High School in Tyler. They started to volunteer in campus ministry at the University of Texas, and he was eventually approached to do some fundraising on a volunteer basis.
That grew into a part-time role and then a job as director of development for the campus ministries for the University of Texas in Tyler and Stephen F. Austin University. Even that role expanded as Onderko was named director of annual giving, with major gift fundraising for scholarships and financial aid for students added over time.
“That’s very good — it’s a very noble thing,” he said. “But it’s not serving the church.”
That came a year and a half ago, when he was recruited to take over at the East Texas Catholic Foundation.
FEELS THE MOMENTUM
Some might see fundraising as sales, but for Onderko the spiritual component makes it something quite different.
“I think I would struggle in sales selling a material thing. But when I believe in the mission of the church and the mission of the diocese, that becomes a very easy thing to sell,” he explained. “Believing in the impact that it’s going to have in serving the church and helping to grow the church — it’s easy to get up every day and be excited about that.”
There’s nothing more important than bringing Christ to others, according to Onderko. The limiting factor is the resources.
He said Bishop Tylka’s Five Foundations have provided a lot of momentum to the life of the Diocese of Peoria. Onderko is also encouraged by the work done by Sister Salezia Rudyova, FSJB, and her team in the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development to manage the Annual Diocesan Appeal.
“That’s in a good, solid state with some good history and a lot of experience there,” he told The Catholic Post.
In addition to youth ministry, the Onderkos have been active in marriage preparation and Dan is a member of the Knights of Columbus.
He is looking forward to meeting people and “just becoming immersed in the Catholic community in any way we can.”