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Second-Career Clergy and Parish Business


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The seminary in The Collar is what's called a second-career seminary, a seminary for men who have come to their vocation later in life. Some of the seminarians featured in the work, like the retired marketing executive Jim Pemberton, come from significant careers in the business world. What are these men looking for in the priesthood, and do they make good priests?

I think that at the center of that question is a mystery, right? What are they looking for? One of the reasons I called this book The Collar was because of the sense of these men being collared, being brought to a profession, being brought to this new life, and not always willingly. It's something that they sometimes struggle with.

[But ultimately,] I think they are looking to serve. Jim Pemberton is a good example. He knows that he has all of this experience—life experience, but specifically business experience. He has four decades of working in a corporate environment, working on deadlines, working on large logistical planning, having a successful career. And one component of a successful career was, for him, time management. He used to tell me that having the corporate career gave him the ability to handle the diverse stresses that he knew he was going to be encountering as a priest. And it also was going to equip him with the ability to manage the parish finances and other parish issues that come up that most priests are going to have to handle.

But do they make good priests? I would say yes. Being a good business person is not necessarily essential to being a good priest, but it definitely gives them an edge in certain areas. You have to remember, there is a strong managerial function in today's priest. That wasn't always the case. Most priests now have to oversee large parish staffs and take up the slack to run various programs. And that managerial aspect is obviously well informed by having had a corporate career where they were in charge of large staffs and various projects.

How do seminarians prepare to address the business of a parish?

There are practical steps that they take. At seminary, they don't take Parish Business Management 101. But they do have frequent, usually weekly, meetings or seminars in which people come from outside of the seminary, people who are involved in ministry of some form. Sometimes they're priests, sometimes they're nuns who run programs at parishes, and sometimes they're lay people who run finance programs in parishes. So they encounter people who are bringing their life experience or their work experience in parishes to the seminary so that they can get a sense of what they're going to face.

But I think you're focusing on something that is very important: the managerial aspect of priesthood is going to become a lot more important as the numbers decline, because the priest is going to have to manage these large staffs that are going to be taking up a lot of the slack. Jim Pemberton definitely felt it's better to be a good manager than a micro-manager. He came from business. He thought that if a young guy came into the priesthood, for example, who didn't have this business background, he might feel obliged to do everything, to run every aspect and be totally in control of every aspect of the parish work, even though it would be beyond his expertise. And Jim used to say, “Well, as a manager with all this experience, I know that there are things beyond my expertise. I know that there are things that people are going to do better than I can, and those people should be in those positions to do those things.” His idea was that if in his parish he had a parishioner who wanted to get more active in the church, a CFO or an accountant for example, he's probably going to want to tap him for some fairly important role in dealing with the parish's finances.

He saw that [his managerial experience] gave him the ability to screen people, to figure out where they're going to do the best work so that he would be free to get to the hospital, say Mass, and hear confessions.