Workshops, life experiences, help prepare seminarians for the realities of parish management

A nationwide shortage of Catholic clergy resulted in pastoral assignments for young priests. So St. Joseph’s Seminary and College, Dunwoodie, Yonkers, is offering a series of workshops to teach future priests, like these men shown in 2020, how to handle responsibilities such as parish finances and building maintenance. (Photo: Saint Joseph Seminary and College)

HEIGHTS OF PERSPECTIVE – Father Dwayne Davis had to learn quickly.

In 2018, just five years after being ordained a priest, he became pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Flatlands, Brooklyn, where he had spent a single year as an administrator.

[Related: Doing God’s Work Can Be Tricky Business]

On the other hand, the late Msgr. John Brown – Father Davis’ predecessor and one of his mentors – had spent the better part of two decades as a priest before becoming a pastor.

Father Dwayne Davis, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, shows “Wall of Fame” photos of volunteers who worked at the parish pantry last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Bill Miller)

“Back then,” Father Davis explained, “you definitely had to have two or three assignments—probably at least 15 years—before you became a pastor.”

But these days, a nationwide shortage of Catholic clergy has resulted in pastoral assignments for young priests like Father Davis, who is 35.

“They are going to be pastors much earlier than seminarians of previous generations,” said Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary and College, Dunwoodie, Yonkers.

Yet seminaries are challenged to integrate management training into theology courses, which is the priority, Bishop Massa said.

To that end, workshops are held at St. Joseph’s Seminary to teach topics such as stewardship, building maintenance, fundraising, and personnel management, to name a few.

“They are going to need to know this stuff,” Bishop Massa said. “But they have a lot to do through academics, so it’s hard to fit it all in. But it’s certainly not ignored.”

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan said he was happy to hear about the workshops. “It is difficult to prepare men to be priests for a particular day or age because things change so quickly,” he said.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that one of the most important aspects of forming and preparing a priest would really be [imparting] a sense of resilience,” he added. “And that means knowing all aspects of parish life. Even the commercial aspects have a pastoral dimension.

Father Michael Bruno is Dean of Seminarians at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Dunwoodie, Yonkers. (Photo: Excerpt from The Tablet Media Archive)

The organization of the workshops is the responsibility of Father Michel Bruno, dean of seminarians.

“I think the challenge is that a lot of the mentoring and preparation has to happen early,” he said, noting that seminarians need to understand that not all parishes are alike.

“Everyone has a unique profile,” said Father Bruno. “In our diocese, they are often multi-ethnic. Some have lots of buildings… others may have connections to an academy or school. Thus, teaching priest candidates flexibility and adaptability to these different realities is certainly important as well.

Management workshops are geared toward soon-to-be-ordained fourth-year seminarians. Each semester, two or three workshops are scheduled on Wednesday afternoons.

“As with personal finances and taxes, we use an accountant, who deals with parish taxes and priests and is an expert in this area,” Fr. Bruno said.

“For parish administration and human resources, we actually bring them to a parish,” he added. “The pastor spends a whole afternoon sharing with them some of his challenges, things they should be looking for, questions they should be asking.”

Other workshops are held at the seminary with guest speakers – such as leaders of the fundraising and development offices of the Diocese of Brooklyn or the Archdiocese of New York – who teach them how to ask for money or how to an appeal in the name of the diocese or the bishop, according to Father Bruno.

The workshops enrich the experiences of seminarians in the second year of theology, during their one-year pastoral internships in the parishes.

“The goal here is to immerse them in parish life, where they literally get to follow a pastor and the workings of his parish,” Fr. Bruno said.

Father Davis, who spent his first three years of formation at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York, and her senior year at Dunwoodie, applauded the workshops.

“At the time, it wasn’t something that was done,” he said. “So, I recommend that. As our world starts to change, it’s so necessary.

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