Being a pastor involves more than celebrating Mass

Story By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Photo Courtesy The Catholic Community Foundation

While confident in their abilities to care for their flock and preach, some Catholic priests and pastors may need a little more administrative training to effectively operate a parish.

The Catholic Community Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans recognized the benefits of additional management training and partnered with Villanova University and its Center for Church Management, American Church Inc. and Our Sunday Visitor to offer a year-long series of web seminars to local priests who desired it.

“Our men who get a great theological training in our seminary may need to have some administrative training above and beyond the theological training,” said Father James Wehner, rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary about the additional formation.

Need to be quick studies

Considering that seminarians today, once ordained, often are appointed pastors or administrators within the first few years of priesthood, the additional training is valuable, Father Wehner said.

Starting last September and running through May, eight priests from the archdiocese participated in 90-minute, live webinars presented by  Villanova professors in which they learned nuances of being an effective priest and pastor.

Topics for discussion included strategic planning, church management in mission-driven churches, church security, facilities and people management, human resources, civil law, leading councils and teams, taking the pulse of the people, virtual presence and communications, financial reporting, the spirituality of administration, leadership development and budgeting and allocating resources.

Priests could ask questions during each live lesson and were required to complete a three- to five-page paper for each webcast. Upon completion with a passing grade, a certificate in church management was presented from the Villanova School of Business.

Enhances seminary training

Father Wehner said leadership training at Notre Dame Seminary offers a strong introduction to the legal, temporal and administrative elements of priestly ministry.

“In the early stages of formation, seminarians are learning what type of a leader that they can understand themselves to be, so, as they are learning their theology, they can anticipate leadership – after they are ordained – in parish ministry,” Father Wehner said.

Father Luis Rodriguez, pastor of St. Clement of Rome Parish in Metairie who has a master’s degree in business administration, teaches “Church Administration.” 

“He’s able to teach from a temporal standpoint, from a legal standpoint, from a standpoint as a leader in diocesan policy – those things that priests need to understand in management today,” Father Wehner said. “It’s a strong course. Then, in their final semester of seminary, I bring in different administrators from the archdiocese” who can discuss development, fundraising, legal issues, building maintenance and plant administration, hiring and firing.

Training for all leaders

The webinar series is geared not only to pastors but also to staff and church leaders from any denomination, yet the majority of participants have been Catholic, said Matthew Manion, faculty director of the Center for Church Management at Villanova University.

It’s beneficial “really to anybody looking for these skills,” Manion said. “We get a lot of pastoral leaders who want to take on more leadership roles.”

A new webinar is introduced about every three weeks.

“We realize there is a need for pastoral leaders to be better equipped in the fundamentals of management,” Manion said. “It is meant to round out the skills pastoral leaders have not been trained in but which they spend a portion of their day doing.”

Manion emphasized that smooth and effective management is “not the reason that church exists. But these things, when done poorly, can inhibit the spread of the Gospel. When done well, they can amplify it.”

Feedback from reviewing evaluations and reading submitted homework papers has prompted Villanova to make minor changes in the courses over the years. This past season, a new webinar on the church’s virtual presence and websites as a total strategy was added.

“Feedback from diocesan partners is that it is the right mix and that it is helpful for them,” Manion said.

Several from archdiocese

The Archdiocese of New Orleans, he said, was the first diocese to intentionally send a “cohort of priests.” He was fascinated “to hear them talk about real-life things that will make a difference in their ministry” from an organizational/cultural standpoint; safety in a church without making it so restricted that people don’t feel welcome; and a pastor who overcame a fear of numbers to ultimately understand how numbers can tell stories and how that gave him a level of excitement and satisfaction.

“Things they lacked confidence in or were scared of or worried about, they now feel equipped to handle,” Manion said.

Father Kyle Sanders, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Franklinton, said Villanova’s course offered him practical training.

“I was confident in my pastoral ministry skills, in loving the people of God, in celebrating the sacraments, in being present to them, in teaching, but governance is not something I have natural aptitude for,” Father Sanders said. “I am more confident now as an administrator than I would have ever been without this program, and I am already using what I’ve learned in the care of the holy family.

“I now know where I need to grow and practice,” he added. “Whereas before, things like H.R. (human relations), budgeting, financial reporting and pastoral planning seemed like brick walls, dense, layered and insurmountable, this program has given me both footholds to climb over those difficulties or a maul to break through them.”

The Lilly Endowment awarded grants for part of the money and the Catholic Community Foundation paid the rest.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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