Priest says new degree in Church administration builds servant-leaders

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Photo courtesy of Catholic News Agency

Perry West
Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., — Seminaries will train priests in theology and philosophy, but how does priestly formation in the U.S. handle the business side of parishes?

Fr. Justin Fulton, a recent graduate in Ecclesial Administration and Management at Catholic University’s Busch School of Business, said this program develops management skills for leadership.

“It’s given me the nuts and bolts way of being a servant leader in the parish,” said Fr. Fulton, who is the assistant pastor of St. Teresa’s Parish in Lincoln, Neb.

A priest is “a steward of God’s mysteries and… a steward of the Church’s resources,” he told CNA. “I think this program helps quantify in ways that weren’t afforded in the seminary.”

The Busch School graduated its first class in this pastoral leadership program last week, with nearly 20 priests earning master’s degrees.

The year-long program is worth 30-credits and consists of mostly online courses, as well as a week of intensive classes in August in Washington D.C. The courses review parish finances, human resource management, and strategic planning.

Fr. Fulton, who is also preparing to be the assistant director for Catholic Social Services in Southern Nebraska, said the program helps prevent issues such as financial dishonesty and burned-out priests.

“Within a year or two or three of being ordained, [priests] are basically mayors of a city. They become pastors of parishes with 3,000, 5,000 families,” he said. This degree will help “guys get some core competencies and relieve some of the stresses of parish life.”

He said the program will give priests the tools to lead a parish to tackle collectively the same goals – “education of kids, salvation of souls, serving in the community, serving in the parish.”

“This program helps give you the tools to effectively present a mission and a vision to … work together, to get input from all of those different stake holders, and ultimately build a family united under the same umbrella looking for the same goal.”

Although most of the classes are taken online, Fr. Fulton said the degree still builds a strong camaraderie among the classmates, which is comprised of priest from across the U.S.

“It kind of forms friendship … the guys that you studied with are designed to be there with each other, throughout the priesthood, to bounce ideas off of and be co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord.”

Another graduate of the program, Fr. Carl Beekman, who is the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Rockford, Ill., said most priests do not have training in the administrative aspect of parish life.

“I think there is an assumption in the Church that you know exactly what you are getting into both administratively and spiritually, but, as we see, most do not know what they are really assuming in the office,” he told CNA.

“The program is very practical. It works from anywhere of crisis management to fundraising,” he said. “I had been praying for a program like this most of my 18 years of priesthood, and before.”

The curriculum was developed as a combined effort by Catholic University schools of Theology and Religious Studies, Canon Law, and Architecture and Planning.

The program is endorsed by numerous U.S. bishops, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, and Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen.

According to Catholic University of America, Cardinal Wuerl said the program is “a welcome resource to guide pastor and their finance councils through a planning and budgeting cycle with an eye to good consultation, collaboration, and communication.”

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