Priests as businessmen

November 10, 2006 | 12 comments

My husband the MBA has a question for y’all:

Do priests get any sort of finance/management training in seminary? We were marveling at the amazing scope of responsibility that our priest has as pastor of a 3, 000+ family church. And being a Bishop is like running a Fortune 500 company.

Do they get any kind of training on managing employees, how to use Quickbooks and look at financial statements, etc.?

I didn’t think I could be any more impressed with parish priests, but the more I think about the sheer day-to-day business and financial management challenges they face the more blown away I am.


  1. Anonymous

    I’m not sure that they do. One of the priests at our old parish was in finance before he heard the call. Our current pastor got his MBA (graduated last year) – though we were confused as to why he did this AFTER ordination. But let’s not get into that…

    I’m not sure on your question, but I know that there is little to no retirement benefits. It’s all at the mercy of the faithful. 🙂

  2. Jim McCullough

    Jen–I do not think much finance training is given priests, in general. Most larger parishes hire an accountant, and canon law mandates a finance council in every parish to oversee the procedures and uses of money. The council in my parish meets monthly and reviews everything. It is made up of a variety of people in banking, accounting, and financial fields. It is important to note the FC does not set pastoral directions for the parish. Dioceses vary quite a bit in oversite of local situations. On retirement benefits (which Christine mentioned) I’m sure that varies from diocese to diocese, too. Our young diocese has developed an extensive, if not plush, system over the past 20 years, with Social Security (which priests and religious used to not pay)plus a fixed benefit plan, plus optional participation in a partially matched 401b. Your greater point of the number of things a priest must be involved in is quite true–it is amazing.

  3. Adoro Te Devote

    In my parish, there is a Parish Administrator and both a Finance Commission and 2 Trustees who handle the business end of things and advise the Pastor. The Pastor has veto power and assignes the Chair of the Parish Council, so there is a system of “checks and balances” involved. Typically, though, unless the priest happens to have had a career in finance, accounting, etc, prior to the sem., then no, they do not get any business training.

    That’s where the laity step in, both paid and volunteer, to assist in handling the business end of a church.

  4. Anonymous

    While I am not very familiar with the financial workings of our parish, I do know we have a finance council, and the head of it gives a little talk to the parish once a year after mass, kind of a State of the Union address.

    I’m not sure what our pastor’s retirement plan is, but given the number of golfing vacations he is able to take, and the nice new Volvo he drives, I would highly doubt he plans on being a pauper in his retirement.

    Parish priests do not have to take a vow of poverty, and apparently in our area, they don’t do too badly. Our parish priest makes no secret of the fact that his chosen vocation brings quite a few perks along with it!!

  5. 4andcounting

    Vows of poverty are typically associated with religious orders. Some priests take vows that are not necessarily as small as poverty, but still small means. Our priest right now is a Marianist and he has to give a portion of everything he earns or is given to his order, unless a gift is specifically given to him and the giver makes a note that it is a personal gift.

  6. Sarah

    Jen, in our Diocese they don’t. I asked my priest this very thing not so long ago (one of the hats I wear at work is book-keeper (along with administrator and secretary and friendly voice on the other end of the phone)), and he just laughed. They, in fact, don’t receive any training (according to Padre, who’s been a priest now for 31 years) in running a parish – personnel tips or dealing with people (aside from counseling) or financial advice/training. They get their doctorate in theology. Now, I’m not saying that’s not as it should be, I’m just saying it’s something for all of us, the parishioners and the family of the parish, to know!!! (It does leave room for their various talents to come out, I guess, but it also seems a little…silly…to me…)

  7. Sarah

    OK, just read the other comments, and I hope I am not ranting here. I just want to note that sometimes, when you see someone driving a certain kind of car – priest or not – or taking a certain kind of vacation – golfing or international or just down the road – you don’t always know what goes into it. Our priest, for example, drives a really nice car, takes a lot of vacations (and international ones at that), but you might not realize that it’s because he retired from the military…it’s not based on what he gets paid as a priest. So, just food for thought for anonymous (who, I realize, probably will not read this comment, and so, Jen, I ask for your forgiveness if I have ranted at YOU, because I do not intend to rant at all, but just to point out a little food for thought…)

  8. Anonymous

    Most priests do not receive academic training in finance, accounting, or other business disciplines in seminary. This is, I think, unfortunate given that many parishes — particularly those with schools — employ as many people as and have budgets similar to many businesses, but it is probably inevitable given the number of things that a seminarian has to learn in order to teach with the Church and to administer the sacraments with due reverence. With the number of required classes in systematic, moral, and pastoral theology, canon law, scripture, homiletics, church history, and usually philosophy, there simply isn’t much room left in the curriculum for business classes.

    The business end of the parish is an area where lay involvement is crucial, as a number of the others who have posted have noted. Most parishes have bankers, business people, lawyers, and others with financial, business, and legal experience and expertise among their parishioners, and those parishioners have the opportunity to render a great service to the Church by offering their talents as members of pastoral and finance councils, buildings and grounds committees, and other parish bodies. In addition to the opportunities to volunteer, some people with business training may choose a career as a parish business manager or bookkeeper. In these ways, the laity can supply what most priests lack, significant business expertise.

    While I’m commenting, I want to say that I have been following this blog for some time now, and I am very impressed with the seriousness and thoughtfulness with which you and your husband are approaching the faith. To read of people like you and your husband being engaged in the quest to know God and to know the truth is very heartening for this priest, and for most priests, I believe. May God bless you and keep you on your pilgrimage into the Church.

    Fr. Stan Pondo

  9. Anonymous


    I’m not really sure why you felt a need to rant in response to my comment about our priest’s lifestyle. I don’t have any problem with the car he drives, the golf vacations he takes, or whatever. I’m happy for him, and like I said, he himself has mentioned to our parish during homilies that he knows he has it pretty good and wishes to let young men considering the priesthood know just what a great life it can be. He actually advertises his lifestyle as a reason young men might give the priesthood a thought.

    I was just musing that I doubt he plans on a poor retirement given his current lifestyle, so I am assuming our diocese either has a retirement plan for the priests or pays them enough to be able to sequester at least a little for themselves. I could be wrong—for all I know, it could be family money or some other such thing. But he certainly doesn’t present it as such to his parish.

  10. Kasia

    Our diocese has actually just started a special collection for the priests’ retirement. Our parish is responsible for collecting $15,000 per priest ($30,000) by the end of June; whatever is not collected via the special collection must come out of our operating expenses. And our parish has a budget analyst (we’re pretty big); not all do, though.

    I know our priest mentioned he makes $25,000 per year. He’s a diocesan priest, not a member of a religious order, so he didn’t take a vow of poverty. That said, $25,000 is not exactly beaucoup bucks for someone with a doctorate and who is on call more or less 24/7…

  11. c matt

    While I do not thinkk they get that type of trainng in seminary (I just don’t know) there are a number of priests who do get secular type training in different disciplines either before, concurrently or after seminary. I know of several with MBAs (one from Harvard), law degrees, PhDs in math/science, etc. These usually tend to end up in educational settings (Catholic schools and colleges) but some find their way to the parish setting. But that is probably the exception rather than rule. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to have some basic financial training (bookkeeping, reading financial statements), but it is probably something they can pick up “on the job.” After all, double-entry bookkeeping was developed by an Italian monk.

  12. Father Kyle

    I think that for most guys today, current seminary training usually includes at least one class in parish administration (at least mine did, at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary of the West in Cincinnati.)

    Is it enough for all the things we deal with on a daily basis? Not even close! But it does help.

    One thing to think about, though, is that there can be a spiritual side to the stewardship of a parish and its gifts. I mention that b/c so many priests lament the administration of a parish: “We have been trained to do spiritual things, not financial!” But the financial administration of the parish is part of the sharing in the priesthood of Christ, as priest, prophet and king.

    The administration properly does belong to the pastor (shepherd!), and it is to have a spiritual dimension. But it isn’t always so easy, I know

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