Msgr. Gerald A. McEnhill Business Education Fund will 'give priests another tool to help them become savvier administrators'
ORCHARD LAKE — Seminarians studying for the priesthood prepare for a life of ministry to God's people — celebrating the sacraments, comforting the sick and dying, counseling the doubtful and attending to their people's spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
It's why most priests become priests.
Yet, another set of priestly skills are just as needed for the successful life of their communities — the material, practical and financial skills involved in the day-to-day operation of a parish.
One might even attach the "B" word to such duties. Not "baptism" or "benediction."
While few priests are ordained with a business background, the management and stewardship of parish resources requires a level of familiarity with the basics of operations, finances, facilities management, human resources and technology, among other areas.
While no one expects a priest to be an expert in these fields — and lay leaders are there to support them — such skills can make a priest's day job immeasurably easier.
Now, thanks to the generosity and acumen of a local senior priest, priests of the Archdiocese of Detroit can turn to a valuable new resource to further their education.
Through the Msgr. Gerald A. McEnhill Business Education Fund for Priests, overseen by the Archdiocese of Detroit, priests can learn best practices that will help them better serve their families of parishes.
Msgr. McEnhill, 77, who in June 2022 was granted senior status after 50 years in the priesthood, established the endowment enabling priests to study business at a Michigan college or university of their choice at no cost to them, or to take online classes at a variety of approved business schools.
“I set up the endowment based on my personal experience," said Msgr. McEnhill, who served most recently as pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Parish in Orchard Lake. "I learned and I feel that you need a core foundation based on secular business principles that can be interpreted and applied in a spiritual and pastoral way in our ministry.”
”Our priests are very capable of doing this, but they will be enhanced immensely if they have this foundation," Msgr. McEnhill added. "So I encourage our priests to take advantage of the opportunity to use this endowment for business courses that will help them to be more effective and efficient in their ministry.“
Jim Thomas, director of development and stewardship for the Archdiocese of Detroit, offered high praise for Msgr. McEnhill's generosity and initiative.
“I have dealt with hundreds, maybe thousands, of donors. Msgr. McEnhill is one of the most authentically generous people I have met,” Thomas said.
Over Msgr. McEnhill's priesthood — including a combined 35 years as a pastor at Our Lady of Refuge and St. Gerald Parish in Farmington, as well as service on the archdiocesan College of Consultors and Presbyteral Council — he learned the value of sound management practices, having pursued a master's in business administration at his own expense early in his ministry from Wayne State University.
Thomas said the endowment, which will fund an M.B.A. or classes toward it, will give other priests the opportunity to acquire those same skills.
“It’s not the degree necessarily, but the knowledge that goes with it," Thomas said. "His goal is to assist every priest he can to be a better pastor, but not in an arrogant way. The idea is to give priests another tool to help them become savvier administrators of their parishes.”
The first priest to take advantage of the opportunity is Fr. Adam Nowak, who currently serves the family of parishes that includes St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Sacred Heart in Auburn Hills, St. Damien of Molokai in Pontiac, and St. Thomas More in Troy.
“In seminary, we get one basic business class called 'Parish Leadership and Administration,'" said Fr. Nowak, who primarily serves at St. Hugo of the Hills. "In that class, we go over the very basics of business. Most of what we learn is hands-on in the parish — first under the guidance of a pastor, and then really when you’re thrown into it yourself as a pastor."
Ordained in 2019, Fr. Nowak credited the pastor of his first parish assignment, Fr. Tim Birney of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Allen Park, with teaching him about the business side of running a parish.
"We recognize that a parish is a spiritual and a human entity,” Fr. Nowak said. “You have to care for the souls of the people, while at the same time manage a nonprofit civil corporation."
Fr. Nowak, 31, plans to pursue a master's in business administration, which he hopes to complete online through the University of Mary in North Dakota. His classes started Jan. 9.
“My goal is to really be an effective leader for mission; to be an effective pastor and to be fiscally responsible and prudent with the stewardship of monies people have entrusted to the parish,” Fr. Nowak said. “I was kind of feeling myself ill-equipped to run a parish and had a desire to learn more. I’m doing an M.B.A. degree, looking at human resources management, leadership and management theory, seeing as that’s what we already do in a parish as priests."
When Msgr. McEnhill was in formation, “no opportunities were offered in the seminary to learn about administration and management in a parish, and yet that is a very important part of our ministry," the senior priest said.
“In the Church, we do ministry differently than in the corporate world, but the principles in business are all the same,” Msgr. McEnhill added. “My background (with a business degree) made everything much easier. I didn’t have to stress over things as much as I might have had to.”
Priests don't have to pursue an M.B.A. or work toward a degree to take advantage of the endowment. Priests can enroll in individual classes they find helpful in fields like accounting, human resources, organizational change, personnel and conflict management, or pursue a degree if they feel called to do so.
Priests wishing to take advantage of the endowment should contact the archdiocese’s Office of Clergy and Consecrated Life, Thomas said.
“The intent is that no priest with an interest would be denied,” Thomas said. “I expect that many priests will take advantage of this, signing up for one or more classes without having to take a leave of absence to do the courses.”
Donations to the Msgr. Gerald A. McEnhill Business Education Fund for Priests are gratefully accepted, Thomas said.
Fr. Nowak is finding that life as a priest and student is challenging, but doable.
“In my spare time and in my evenings, the focus is on my courses,” Fr. Nowak said. “It’s been an adjustment and it does mean sacrifices. On a given night, instead of having dinner with friends, I’m home working on a paper on equal opportunity, for example.
“The overall goal, always for a priest, is the salvation of souls," Fr. Nowak added. "This degree can help in that mission, which might sound strange to some. But the more you can effectively manage the business side of the parish, the more free you are to focus on that mission: the salvation of souls and forming disciples for Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron was thrilled to learn about Msgr. McEnhill’s generous initiative, Thomas said, and warmly welcomed the creation of the opportunity for priests.
“Monsignor has been a giant in the diocese when it comes to financial awareness. He has laser-like focus on things that matter from a financial point of view and brings a pastoral mindset to it as well,” Thomas said.
Fr. Nowak said he's immeasurably grateful to Msgr. McEnhill for the opportunity.
“Msgr. McEnhill has been very generous both in his time and his treasure to the archdiocese and to the priests of the archdiocese and the people of God,” Fr. Nowak said. “I am very grateful to receive this scholarship to study in his name.”
An earlier version of this story misidentified the university where Fr. Nowak is taking courses.