A Baptism in Business for Pastors, Laypeople
BC Program Would Be a First

By Michael Paulson
Boston Globe [Massachusetts]
July 1, 2006

Boston College is preparing to launch the nation's first graduate program to train priests, nuns, and laypeople who manage Catholic parishes and organizations, an effort to help the Catholic Church respond to the widespread criticism of its administrative, financial, and personnel practices during the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

The Jesuit university's decision to offer degree programs in church management is the latest in a series of steps BC has taken to confront the issues raised by the abuse crisis.

College officials say the efforts are motivated by a desire to help the church, but the program could also serve as part of an answer to occasional critics who have questioned the strength of the college's Catholic identity. The programs will be marketed to non-Catholics, as well as Catholics.

Starting this fall, BC will offer a joint master's degree in business administration and pastoral ministry, which will take three years to earn, as well as a master's degree in pastoral ministry with a concentration in church management, which will require two years of coursework. For either degree, students will take classes on both religion and management and participate in a new colloquium on the integration of religion and business.

"This comes out of BC's desire to be assisting the church," said the Rev. William P. Leahy, president of Boston College. "I certainly hear people talking about the need for better management training."

Boston College has been among the most aggressive of the nation's Catholic universities at confronting the issues raised by the clergy sexual abuse crisis, in part because it is located in the archdiocese where the crisis erupted in 2002.

In the fall of 2002, the university launched the Church in the 21st Century program, which was later converted into a permanent research center studying issues facing contemporary Catholicism. It has drawn an estimated 36,000 people to 220 events of the academic sort not ordinarily known to draw crowds. In February, for example, an estimated 6,000 people packed into the university's hockey arena for a panel discussion on faith and public policy.

The university has also been attempting to shore up parochial schools, which are struggling in Boston and much of the country. The Lynch School of Education at BC is increasing its efforts at teacher development for Catholic schools, oversees a residential and educational program for college graduates who want to teach in Boston Catholic schools, and is helping to manage one struggling parochial school, St. Columbkille, in Brighton near the college.

BC is also working with other Catholic colleges in the archdiocese to come up with ways to improve marketing and fund-raising by Catholic schools, and the chairman emeritus of the BC board of trustees, Jack Connors Jr., is overseeing an effort to reorganize the Catholic school system in Boston.

The efforts mark a shift in the dynamic between the university and the archdiocese.

Just a few years ago, BC was defending its academic freedom against an ultimately failed national effort by the church to more tightly monitor the teachings of Catholic theologians; now the college is in a stronger financial position and arguably enjoys greater credibility than the archdiocese.

The university has also become a primary location for discussion of controversial church issues, particularly gender, that the diocese has been unwilling to tackle directly.

The university has also played a major role in staving off bankruptcy by the archdiocese, by paying more than $107 million to buy a portion of the archdiocesan headquarters in Brighton, including the building that housed the church tribunal, for which BC paid a final $8 million yesterday. And the university is loaning a social work professor -- and reducing his college workload -- to the archdiocese to consult on outreach to abuse victims. "It's all part of our effort in helping to renew the church," Leahy said.

The church management program, which will involve existing faculty and classes from the business school and a religion institute, was spurred by repeated criticism that weak administrative practices by Catholic Church officials contributed to the abuse crisis and the ensuing financial crisis that has led to parish closings and layoffs by the archdiocese.

A national organization of 225 prominent Catholics, the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, has as one of its primary focuses the need for more professional administrative practices by dioceses. At a meeting in Philadelphia this week, the group singled out the Archdiocese of Boston for praise, in recognition of its disclosure of its finances earlier this year, and urged other dioceses to follow suit.

Thomas H. Groome, professor of theology and director of BC's Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, said last year's meeting of the roundtable, which includes numerous prominent business leaders, prompted him to propose the church management program. Groome said Villanova University in Pennsylvania is exploring a similar program.

"When you think about the crisis in the Catholic Church, there are many causes -- theological, canonical, structural, sociological -- but one of the causes is poor management of personnel and resources, and to bring quality management would seem an imperative strategy for reform," Groome said.

"We're not trying to turn the church into a business, but we need people who know both good business and the language and culture of the church, as well."

BC estimates that the Catholic Church in the United States, through its dioceses, parishes, hospitals, schools, and social service programs, does $100 billion in business each year.

University officials say they hope that the programs will be attractive to people pursuing careers in management of church organizations or people already holding such jobs who want more training.

The students are likely to be mostly laypeople, as the dwindling number of priests requires the Catholic Church to concentrate its clerical resources on the celebration of sacraments.

"From our perspective it's clear that church managers need many of the same skills that managers in any setting need, so that a concentration or degree in management makes sense," said Jeffrey L. Ringuest, associate dean at BC's Carroll School of Management. "We think that these programs will help us to attract some students that we might not have otherwise attracted."

Michael Paulson can be reached at


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.