Roman Catholics train priests for life as CEOs
Because of the shortage of priests, newly ordained become pastors more quickly.
The Rev. Bill Rose figured it was divine intervention when he was put in charge of St. Rose Catholic Church in Lima, Ohio.
But as the youngest pastor in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo, he was in over his head. He inherited a debt and had to lay off workers and cut costs.
"It was overwhelming," the 38-year-old said.
In the 1950s, Father Rose would have spent years as an apprentice under several pastors to learn the skills of running a parish. Now, with a shortage of priests, young clergymen are being promoted much earlier.
Dioceses have responded by training priests early in their careers or while still in the seminary for the many roles they will play as pastor.
"It is imperative we give them capabilities to succeed as leaders," said the Rev. Dave Nuss, the Toledo Diocese's director of vocations. "It's more than accounting and payroll. It's about cultivating leaders."
Father Nuss routinely has priests meet with local corporate executives to glean their business savvy.
Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati has been providing an elective class on parish finances since the mid-1980s, one of the first seminaries to begin doing so.
"Some of these guys are going to be the CEO of multimillion-dollar operations," said Dennis Eagan, adding that many of his former students later call him to thank him for teaching the class.
The Archdiocese of Chicago provides workshops on management and personnel issues for newly ordained priests. It also matches new pastors with mentors, a common program in large dioceses, said the Rev. Louis Cameli, the archdiocese's director of ongoing formation.
A course in pastoral administration at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore covers everything from balancing a budget to fund raising to building maintenance.
St. Mary's, the first Catholic seminary established in the United States, trains priests for about 20 dioceses on the East Coast.
The seminary places great importance on getting priests ready to lead parishes because some become pastors within a year of ordination, said Betty Visconage, vice president for institutional advancement.
"The faculty sees this as their primary mission," she said.
Sister Christine Schenk, executive director of FutureChurch, a Cleveland-based group of liberal-minded Roman Catholic reformers, would like to see every seminary require courses in human resources, management and community organizing.
"Most priests want to be a priest because they want to be ministering to people, not because they want to be a manager," Sister Christine said. "Most do management badly."
But the Rev. Edward Burns, executive director of the secretariat for vocations and priestly formation at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said each diocese has its own administrative style and therefore should be left to decide how to instruct priests.
Many seminarians spend a full year of study at a parish before they are ordained.
Many men are deciding to enter the priesthood later in life, and some have business backgrounds, which has helped broaden the talent base.
In the past
Decades ago, priests generally were ordained in their mid-20s. Last year, the average age of an ordained priest was 37, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Rev. Brendan McGuire, 39, of Holy Spirit Parish in San Jose, Calif., was the executive director of the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association before becoming a priest.
That job took him around the world, working with computer giants like Microsoft and Fujitsu to set standards for PC cards.
"Fundamentally, it's exactly what I do now," Father McGuire said. "You deal with lots of different people who have their own agendas and you have to keep everyone unified on the same standard. And this standard is Jesus Christ."
Father McGuire has brought business practices, like employee evaluations, to Holy Spirit, a parish of more than 4,000 people.
The shortage of priests and the ever-expanding role of the parish have caused some to rethink the role of the pastor. Parishes now have million-dollar budgets and provide more services, such as counseling for youths, parents and couples getting married.
Pastors can't shoulder the entire burden like they did decades ago, said the Rev. Bob Silva, president of the Chicago-based National Federation of Priests' Councils. Lay people should take over some duties, such as managing finances, he said.
"The only way a priest is going to survive without burning out early in his life is to understand that the church does ministry and the pastor leads that community in the doing of it," Father Silva said.
Management duties take up 80 percent of Rose's time at St. Rose and its sister parish, St. John the Evangelist.
A degree in public relations has helped, but Father Rose still is taking advantage of a local businessman's offer to send him to a two-day seminar on management skills. He also benefited from a previous assignment under another pastor.
"The seminary training provided me with the necessary training to be a good priest," he said. "The training for being a good pastor came from having good role models."