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May 14, 2017

Mundelein teaching future pastors business skills

By Michelle Martin

Staff writer

A priest is not an executive and a parish is not a business, but that doesn’t mean that pastors can ignore good management practices.

Mundelein Seminary is trying to help its students learn some of what they’ll need — from budgeting to keep the lights on to managing the combination of staff and volunteers that make ministry happen — with a five-week class module called the School of the Good Shepherd.

It’s a need that’s so obvious that most laypeople who hear about it tell Father John Kartje, rector/president of Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake, that it makes all the sense in the world.

“Well, that’s the polite ones,” Kartje said. “The others can’t believe it took us this long.”

The creation of the class coincided with the seminary’s move from a quarter to a semester calendar, leaving space around what was once the “pastoral quarter” for second-year theology students, in which they work and learn in a parish for 10 weeks.

“We didn’t want to make that the whole spring semester, because they would be away from their spiritual directors all the way from Christmas through summer and then to the next fall,” Kartje said. “That’s a long time for them to be away from the seminary.”

Instead, seminarians return in January for one-week retreat about leadership, and then learn about spreadsheets and budgets and how to find people who can share their expertise with the parish.

“You don’t automatically know how to do all that stuff,” Kartje said. “You’re spending time in seminary doing heavy theology and some pastoral stuff.”

That’s not to say that the School of the Good Shepherd is five weeks of condensed business school.

“A shepherd leads in a way that is spiritually fulfilling, not just for his people but for himself,” Kartje said.

After five weeks of classes, they get sent off to see how it works in the real world.

Brother Matthew Schuster, who just completed second-year theology in his studies to become a priest of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, said that learning some of the administrative skills a pastor needs before his internship at St. John Cantius Parish, 825 N. Carpenter St., prepared him for dealing with the practical duties that fall on a pastor.

“It’s not that administration is the No. 1 purpose of a pastor,” Schuster said. “Ultimately, the pastor is a father. But if the administration is not good, the effects are disastrous.”

After observing the work of the pastor and other priests, Schuster said that he thinks it’s especially important for priests — most of whom will be pastors within a few years — to learn about how to deal with human resources. That includes hiring and firing, but also making the best use of the people on staff and volunteers.

“It’s really about realizing one man cannot do everything by himself,” Schuster said. “You need people working with you. The priest needs to be a leader, and that’s a real skill.”

It’s not a coincidence that seminarians’ pastoral internships happen in the spring, giving the parishes an extra set of hands and giving the seminarians a front-row seat for what is usually the busiest time of the year: Lent, Holy Week, the Triduum and Easter, not to mention the First Communions and confirmations that also are concentrated toward the end of the school year.

Kartje says he wants to add more components about the practical side of parish leadership throughout the curriculum.

“We’re certainly not attempting to do everything in five weeks,” he said. “It kind of is knowing what you don’t know.”