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Posted 4.8.05

Doctoral student’s research creates model for better training of priests

Terry Brizz, an 2004 Executive Doctoral Management graduate at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, has researched the frustration Roman Catholic priests feel about their training, seeing themselves as ill-prepared to assume the responsibilities of running a parish, and the severe challenges the Roman Catholic Church faces in preparing priests to become pastors. The declining number of priests is bringing these problems to the forefront as the time spent as an associate priest shrinks.

The leadership training model for priests in use when the Roman Catholic Church first arrived on American shores has never been changed and is still employed today.   A love of his faith and a desire to see Catholic parishes become vibrant entities again motivated Brizz to focus his EDM research project on developing a better business model for training Catholic priests to create an organized, vibrant parish.

Partnering with the Cleveland Catholic diocese, a priest-rich parish in an era when many dioceses do not have enough priests, Brizz explores priests’ experiences as they journey from an associate priest through the transition to becoming a pastor.  Brizz has identified a number of ways that these Catholic churches can address the problems facing them, including formulating a set of competencies to teach priests to become pastors, perform yearly reviews of the priests, increasing and mandating educational opportunities to augment the lack of time spent in the apprenticeship training, providing qualified and nurturing masters for the apprentices to serve under and make available opportunities for apprentices to learn with and from each other.   He recommends frequent audits - every two to five years - to monitor parish finances, the pastor’s performance and the vitality of lay involvement in the parish.  Additionally, Brizz recommends identifying a set of skills or “pastoral leadership competencies,” creating ongoing educational opportunities such as:

  • executive leadership education for pastors;
  • training and reviewing experienced pastors that associates train with to making sure they are providing a nurturing environment;
  • teaching the younger priests what they need to know in order to prepare them for running a parish;
  • giving more time to the incoming pastor, outgoing pastor and the parish community in order to insure a smooth and orderly succession; and
  • assigning each new pastor a mentor and giving him an opportunities other apprentices at retreats and educational seminars.


Brizz studied the organizational structure of the Greek Orthodox Church and feels the U.S. Roman Catholic Church should be prepared to adopt other religious models to run their parishes in the future.  His research also reveals the lack of diocesan control over the pastors and their parishes.  Canon Law provides for the pastor to have authority over the parish and limits the diocesan control over the pastor, creating a dilemma which holds uncooperative pastors accountable for their parishes and can mask problems for the incoming pastor. It is apparent, especially in the wake of the current Church scandals that the diocesan officials need to be more proactive in their attempts to monitor their parishes.

As the priests’ shortage continues to influence the way parishes are run, it will become imperative for the American Catholic church to examine other methods to manage their parishes. Brizz sees the concept of hiring of business managers to assist the pastor in managing the business aspects of the parish as a forward thinking idea that will take hold. Additionally, his research recommends today and more importantly in the future, a vital element for all Catholic parishes is lay involvement because soon there will not be enough priests left to run these parishes. Parishes must establish strong and vibrant Parish and Financial Committees to be in place to assist the pastor in directing the parish, Brizz said.

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