Priests study ‘ministry of management’

Categories: Around the Diocese


Benedictine Father Matthew Luft, pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Cold Spring, signs checks, something he considers a large part of parish management. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

About 40 priests from the Diocese of St. Cloud attended a “Ministry of Management” training Oct. 14 at the Pastoral Center in St. Cloud.

The training was the first of two sessions geared toward priests ordained 20 years or less. The sessions — the second is set for Nov. 17 — are open to all priests who want to learn more about human resource issues, sacramental law and managing complex parish structures and parish clusters.

According to Deacon Mark Barder, the diocese’s director of planning, the idea to provide the training first surfaced as part of the goals developed by the diocese’s Planning Advisory Council as it considered future projections through the year 2021.

“One of our goals was to develop some ongoing formation for priests in the areas of managing ministry issues in parish structures,” Deacon Barder explained. “More importantly, how does a pastor or parochial vicar learn how to address and deal with the sacramental and human resource issues that arise in managing parishes?”

Although seminaries touch on these topics, he said, they typically don’t provide concentrated training in these areas, mainly because of the number of theology courses seminarians need as well as the fact that different dioceses may approach such issues differently.

An abbreviated version of the training has been presented in the past to the newly ordained. However, Deacon Barder said it became clear this past year following annual visits to priests in new assignments that this was an area needing a more in-depth approach.

Every time a priest is moved to a new parish, representatives from the diocesan Priest Personnel Board conduct a six-month visit. They talk with the priest at his new parish and meet with parish leadership representatives.

“This training is something that is being asked for from the priests, especially the newly ordained and those ordained for a few years. But the sessions are open to the entire presbyterate and several priests who were ordained longer were in attendance,” Deacon Barder said.

Bishop Donald Kettler welcomed the priests as the morning session began Oct. 14 and spent the day with them, listening to presentations on diocesan policies and record-keeping as well as a question-and-answer session.

In the afternoon, Father Stan Mader, a guest speaker from St. Ambrose Parish in Woodbury, presented his perspective on managing complex parish situations. His parish is one of the largest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, with about 12,500 families.

The November session will focus on working with parish and finance councils as well as human resource issues and employment-related topics.

Deacon Barder said the goal is primarily to increase awareness about the complexity of running a parish and offer priests the tools to do so.
“It really is an opportunity to grow and become a better priest and manager of one’s parish community,” he said. “I believe by giving our pastors and priests better tools to run their parishes, they will become more effective ministers in the pastoral ministry so many wish to do.”

More research

St. John’s School of Theology graduate Bailey Walter worked with Deacon Barder as part of her field education. She learned that part of the pastoral plan for the diocese was to look at management practices for priests.

Walter, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in management, was interested in how good management practices could be used within the context of ministry. As she began her final research project in the fall of 2014, she hoped her interest in the subject could be put to use in the diocese since it saw a need for it already.

Her project, titled “Essential to Priestly Ministry: Human Resources Training in Seminary,” looked at the need for training like this in the ordained priesthood.

“Because of the limited scope of the project for the class, I kept my project focused on seminary formation because I believe this is where the understanding of management practices as a fundamental piece of a pastor’s role in ministry begins, with the understanding that it cannot end at seminary and there is much to be done post-ordination,” Walter said.

She surveyed pastors in the Diocese of St. Cloud and received about a 77 percent response rate. She asked questions about how well prepared they felt in the areas of management for their ministry, how well they were prepared once they got into ministry and how important management practices were as a piece of their ministry.

All pastors who submitted responses felt that good management practices were important in their role as pastor, she said. Most agreed they had not received adequate training for these skills in seminary.

Walter also found that when she asked pastors how much time they spent on administrative tasks, the largest number of responses came in between 30-50 percent of their time, she said. This means a pastor is spending up to, or exceeding, half of his time on tasks that fall into the management skills area. However, within seminary education, only about 2 percent of the classes and field education is spent in these areas, she said.

“The aim of my project was looking at how to fill some of this gap,” Walter said, “and I think that’s what the diocese is doing now with this training. Pastors have a lot of responsibility, and the church has a responsibility to prepare and support them in that charge.”


What they learned

“I found it helpful, as a newly ordained priest, to have the opportunity to get together with priests of the diocese to be informed about diocesan procedures and have the occasion to inquire about various topics that require official input from the diocesan level. It is difficult to try and figure things like this out on your own in the midst of the many demands of parish life; thus, to be able to come together has facilitated a deeper understanding and appreciation for our diocesan practices.”

— Father Gabriel Walz, parochial vicar of the parishes SS. Peter and Paul, Braham; Christ the King, Cambridge; and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Isanti


“It is nice that the diocese arranged this day for us to ask questions and learn how to be better priests in the area of business management. I found the most helpful part was reviewing canonical procedures and understanding the expectations of the diocese in how we record information.”

— Father Aaron Kuhn, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Wadena, and St. John the Baptist Parish, Bluffton


“Besides the useful details about recording sacramental records, I found the spirit of cooperation and collegiality among the various age groups of clergy to be enlightening. We all seemed interested in learning how to do our best in serving and helping parishioners.”

— Father Kevin Anderson, pastor of Christ Our Light Parish, Princeton/Zimmerman


“I found that the day was most helpful in being able to be with the younger priests of the diocese and the bishop. We don’t often get a chance for all the priests to gather alone with the bishop. I found the fraternity to be uplifting. I also found the day to be extremely enlightening and clarifying with regards to diocesan procedures. Finally, as one of the few priests of the diocese who has a stand-alone parish, I was in awe of my brother priests who pastor multiple parishes. It gave me a deeper appreciation for my own situation, unique as it is with a nursing home, school and parish community.”

— Benedictine Father Matthew Luft, pastor of St. Boniface Parish, Cold Spring