It looks like the days of priests being left to fend for themselves in organisational and parish settings, armed only with qualifications in philosophy and theology, may be numbered.
Eight priests from the Archdiocese of Sydney are completing the Graduate Certificate in Management of Not-for-Profit Organisations at the Australian Catholic University, along with seven other priests from Canberra and Goulburn, Wollongong and Broken Bay.
It’s a diverse group in terms of age and experience, with some men having extensive pastoral experience but little previous work history, and vice versa.
The bespoke course is giving them the kinds of skills and acumen that most priests are called upon to use every day, but which few are taught: skills in governance, human resources, finance and change management.
All Saints’ Liverpool assistant priest Fr Tom Stevens says it’s been a great accompaniment to the past two years he has spent at the busy Sydney parish since his ordination in 2015.
Hardly a slouch in the organisational department, having earlier in his life been a successful international maritime lawyer, Fr Stevens says the course has opened his eyes to finance – “not my forte” – and to different ways of thinking about organisational change.
“It fills a gap in education, really; it helps us as priests fulfil the changing governance and societal expectations that are placed on us, so that we can serve more effectively,” Fr Stevens said.
“So when you go to parish finance meetings you can take more of an interest in what’s going on, also with building and employment situations.”
ACU’s Director of Strategic Partnerships and Executive Education, Tom Ristoski said that the impetus for the course was a similar skills gap experienced by teachers who had been elevated to the position of principal.
The university began offering a Masters of Business Administration specifically for school principals around four years ago – an Australian first.
Several people in the first cohort asked if there was anything similar for priests, leading to discussions with archdioceses and dioceses.
The Archdiocese of Sydney responded very positively, recognising “that you’ve got to skill your people up,” Mr Ristoski said.
“You’ve got to give everyone the tools not just to cope but to flourish.”
It seems to have touched a nerve, attracting international interest from throughout the region, something Mr Ristoski is staying relatively tight-lipped about for now.
“What’s terrific about this is that these guys in the room say the Church needs to change; it needs to reinvent itself.
“They are the future change leaders. They see the different worlds (in which the Church operates) and how there might be some innovative ways to approach those challenges.”
Fr Stevens said he also appreciated the time spent with his brother priests and the fact that each had outlooks, approaches and styles that differed from his own.