Future Catholic priests spend years studying theology in seminary. But what they don’t learn there is how to actually run a parish.
It’s easy to forget that parishes are not just communities of worship. They also have a business component, sometimes with multi-million dollar budgets. The pastor, the parish’s head priest, is essentially the chief executive officer. Alongside the parish finance council, a pastor is in charge of managing parish and school staffs, up to millions of dollars in revenue and expenses, and capital projects.
Priests who become pastors often must take on all these duties with little to no formal business or administration training.
Seminaries “have so much other stuff to cover, that they’re required by the diocese to cover, that they frankly don’t have time to cover this very important topic,” said Charles Zech, a Villanova University economics professor who has long studied Catholic parish finances. “Seminaries think they’re in the business of training priests, but really they’re in the business of training pastors. That’s a big difference.”To close this education gap for future pastors, the St. Louis Archdiocese launched last year its own business and administration program for priests, along with St. Louis University’s Emerson Leadership Institute.
The archdiocese program, called the Pastoral Leadership Institute, currently trains priests in finance and will eventually expand to include curriculum tracks for human resources, marketing, school management and parish operations. Archdiocese officials and experts believe this is the first such business program for priests in the U.S.
Of course, in many places there are already seasoned clergy with years of experience in managing staff, balancing a budget and running a business in the secular world. They’re called deacons.