WASHINGTON — Catholic pastors, or priests on track to become pastors, now have access to an online master’s degree program in parish administration and management, offered through The Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business.

The new “Master of Science in Ecclesial Administration and Management” aims to give current or future pastors the tools they need to wisely shepherd their parishes’ material goods and personnel, so they can effectively carry out their mission to proclaim the Gospel.

The yearlong program begins with one week at CUA’s campus in order to introduce the priests to fellow students and their professors, who hail from the university’s business school as well as the theology, canon law and architecture schools.

The rest of the 30-credit online curriculum covers such topics as parish fundraising campaigns, economic transparency, how to organize and manage employees, effective communications and crisis management, and more.

William Bowman, dean of the Busch School, told the Register that CUA intends the new master’s program to provide pastors with the proven best practices “consistent with Catholic social doctrine” that guide day-to-day administration of successful secular businesses.

Bowman, an experienced CEO himself, said the program reflects CUA’s mission to be at the service of the Church. He said Bishop James Checchio, the former rector at the North American College and current shepherd of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, told CUA that seminarians’ formation did not cover business issues adequately.

Bishop Checchio, one of only a handful of U.S. bishops with a master’s degree in business administration (from LaSalle University in Philadelphia), saw the need to supplement the administrative education of young priests, since canon law makes pastors answerable for their oversight of parish financial operations.

Bowman said the business school understands the need to equip pastors with a financial education. Many pastors work with million-dollar budgets or parishes “the size of a small business.”

“Our focus is purely on the pastor and what his responsibilities are,” he said.

 

Lack of Experience

Mario Enzler, the program director for the new master’s program and former Swiss Guard under St. John Paul II, told the Register that many priests of his acquaintance told him of their challenges in running a parish.

In years past, a young priest might learn the ropes of parish administration by working under an experienced pastor for at least five or six years after his ordination. But with the shortage of pastors to run parishes, many bishops are appointing new priests to pastorates within a year of their ordination.

“The poor bishop has no choice. They have no priests,” Enzler said.

But the priest effectively becomes a “micro-CEO of a corporation” when he becomes a pastor.

Pastoring has the administrative component “implicit in the call,” Enzler explained. But because seminary training does not include a business education, the priests “don’t have the tools to carry out the administrative component.”

A pastor who has to rely on laypeople to tell him how to read spreadsheets with financial data, Enzler added, is still legally on the hook for the parish’s actions. Also, a pastor may oversee a parish school, and he needs to know how to handle effectively volatile issues, such as what to do when an employee there publicly violates the Church’s teaching.

Enzler said the program’s 10 courses were developed in response to the needs pastors identified and will give them access to expert help for difficulties they encounter.

 

Serving the People of God

The sign-up for the fall program began April 29.

According to a CUA announcement, the program has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Checchio and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Cardinal Wuerl, CUA’s chancellor, said the master’s degree will help pastors guide their parishes in stewarding and matching appropriate resources to ministries.

“Thus, the parish will be able to offer people a more fervent and vibrant experience of God’s love poured out in his Church,” he said.

Father Carl Beekman, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Cary, Illinois, told the Register that his interest in the master’s program for pastors came from his desire to be “the best father I can for my family,” referring to his parish.

The former Marine has been a priest for 17 years and had previous business experience, but said he has always sought to add “tools in my proverbial toolbox” as a pastor in the Diocese of Rockford.

“The people of God deserve it,” he said. “I want to do everything right, but I want a pro to tell me, ‘You’re doing it awesome.’”

In Father Beekman’s experience, “every parish” needs to communicate more effectively to parishioners about what it is doing and how resources are being used. The faithful, he added, want their pastor to succeed and need him to be a good shepherd of the parish’s resources, as well as of souls.

That means getting staff to work together, instead of in their own “silos,” and seeing where a parish’s material debt may be revealing a “spiritual poverty.” He said a parish that is not evangelizing will have fewer people contributing because less people are getting married in the Church, baptizing their children and giving them the sacraments or attending Sunday Mass as a family.

He added that pastors have to solicit fresh ideas and make objective assessments, and not trust only their instincts or take someone’s word about what a balance sheet says.

Sometimes, he said, people tell a pastor what they think he wants to hear, when he needs instead to be able to recognize the hard truths in the numbers before his eyes.

 

Sharing Knowledge

Father Beekman said that he aims to be a “better brother” to his fellow priests and share his knowledge about how to better run a parish. He said the program would no doubt help priests who are in their first five years, but even older pastors, such as himself, “can learn new tricks.”

“I want to give my best to my people,” he said, “because my testimony to the Lord is my people.”

 

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.