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Bishop Fisher Features Parish Life

Priests take parish management course at Villanova


Seven diocesan priests recently took advantage of an opportunity to learn the skills of church management at Villanova School of Business outside Philadelphia.

Father Michael Johnson, Father Christopher Emminger, Father Robert Owczarczak, Father Peter Bassey, Father Aaron Kulczyk, Father Luke Uebler and Father Moses Ikuelogbon at Villanova University attending a parish management course. (Photo Courtesy of Villanova University)

The weeklong immersive experience saw the men re-enter the classroom for six hours a day to hear lectures, analyze case studies and read reports to learn the basics of Pastoral and Strategic Church Management, Budgeting for Mission, Church Missional and Financial Reporting, as well as human resources, building trust and fundraising.

Four of the seven priests who attended the July program met with Bishop Michael W. Fisher to discuss what they learned.

The priests gave an overview of the program, which didn’t duplicate what they learned in seminary – such as how Canon law governs parishes – but did offer advice on tapping into the time, talent and treasure of parish community.

“Did you see any conflicts between what you were learning there and how we’re moving ahead with renewal?” asked Bishop Fisher. “Or were you able to apply that to what we’re doing in renewal?”

“I believe we can apply it,” replied Father Aaron Kulczyk, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Pompeii, Lancaster, and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Depew. “The biggest hurdle I believe we have with Renewal is it’s all new. It’s very hard to contrast something when it’s new because you don’t have any other standards to fall back on. With the Road to Renewal, it’s the changing of the expectations, not only for ourselves, so that we can get back to making sure administration can be done by other consultative bodies.”

“Is there anything you learned that could help us? Maybe that we’re not doing?” asked Bishop Fisher.

“What I thought was really good, besides doing everything through the lens of Catholic Social Thought, was that all the decision making that we were doing and saw in that last project was; what are the non-financial costs and benefits and what are the financial costs and benefits. So, we’re always looking at those four things, but incorporating Catholic Social Teaching when you make those decisions,” replied Father Michael Johnson, parochial vicar of Nativity of Our Lord in Orchard Park.

The class examined how to handle a closed church. One option was to rent the land to CVS. It’s a financially good idea, but the drug store sells contraceptives and Plan B. Would accepting rent make the parish complicitous in the sale of those products? How would this affect smaller family-owned pharmacies?

All the men sung praises about the program and highly recommend it. Father Kulczyk said the best time to participate in this program is after ordination when priests have experience in the inner workings of a parish.

Father Christopher Emminger, (from left), Father Aaron Kulczyk and Father Michael Johnson gather at St. Margaret Parish in Buffalo to discuss their week at Villanova University, where they learned the key lessons of running a parish. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

  “When you have that accountability and that responsibility for some of these matters, it makes it that more lived out and real,” he said.

It was Deacon Greg Moran, director of Organizational Development and Strategic Planning for the Office of Renewal, who suggested the course after similar study at Villanova.

“What do we do to nurture and develop people while they’re in their positions? No matter what their position is – priest, deacon, every one of our positions – there should be a continuing improvement component to it. This was just the perfect opportunity when we found out about the program,” he said. “I think it’s a game changer. This will help seed more continuing education, which is what we need.”

Fifty scholarships were offered through the Lilly Endowment Inc. to allow priests ordained less than five years to learn to be stewards of the human, financial and organizational resources.

The Center for Church Management at the Villanova School of Business provides education and scholarship in the Augustinian Catholic tradition on strategic, management and financial matters in service to leaders of churches and other Christian faith-based ministries.


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