An archdiocese in Missouri has been sending its priests to business programs since last year so they could learn skills that would make them effective parish managers. At the St. Louis University, through its Emerson Leadership Institute, priests study courses like finance, marketing, and management of schools or parish operations.
Officials of the St. Louis Archdiocese, led by Jerry Amsler, partnered with the university to come up with specific lessons for priests called the Pastoral Leadership Institute. Classes usually have online sessions, as well as face-to-face sessions with the professors. Priests are also given assignments that will help them master budgets and balance sheets.
Amsler planned the business programs after several pastors approached him about how to run schools or parishes. For years, priests trained in courses involving Theology or Philosophy to become effective pastors, but most have no business knowledge or financial acumen.
Those who are qualified to take the classes are associate priests who are being eyed to lead parishes in the next few years.
In the past, parish leaders usually ascend to the position after 15 years. However, with the shortage of priests in general, some become ordained pastors who lead a church within six years.
Within that short period, priests usually focus on ministry and not the operations of a parish, thus the business courses help future church leaders become well rounded.
The move to teach priests how to run a business also helps the archdiocese in keeping its accounting books in order. While schools and parishes run by religious organizations do not have to submit financial reports to the government, such knowledge helps detect and avoid embezzlement. Apparently, 85 percent of parishes in the St. Louis Archdiocese have had embezzlement cases in the past.
"This is an opportunity not to make them experts but to give them a nice little foundation so they can be involved in their parishes," Amsler said when the program launched last year and following a raving review of the courses from the program's first participants.