Conn. college to train students to run parishes

Master’s degree aimed at laypeople

By Stephanie Reitz
Associated Press / December 28, 2009

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HARTFORD - With the number of ordained priests declining nationwide, a Connecticut college is launching a master’s degree program to train laypeople to become parish administrators.

Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell recently received unanimous approval from the state Board of Governors for Higher Education to offer the degree, a master of arts in pastoral studies.

It will be the first of its kind in Connecticut, where about 1.3 million of the state’s 3.5 million residents are Catholic. Similar degree programs are in place at Boston College, Seton Hall University, Loyola University in Chicago, the University of Dallas, and some other Catholic colleges.

It also has special significance in the state, where financial scandals involving priests led to an ill-fated legislative effort last spring to give lay members more control over parish finances.

At Holy Apostles, the degree program is aimed toward a range of students: new seminarians, ordained deacons, even people retiring from jobs in the secular world and planning second careers helping their churches. Classes will start next fall if faculty recruitment and curriculum planning go as scheduled.

“More and more of these programs are cropping up around the country, and we felt it was time for us to offer this knowledge in a more formal way,’’ said James Papillo, an ordained deacon and Holy Apostles’ vice president of administrative affairs.

Holy Apostles, which was founded as a seminary in 1956, expanded in 1972 to include degree programs for men and women who are not seminarians.

The new master’s program will be offered in classes at the Cromwell campus and online, and is expected to draw about 25 part- and full-time students by its third year.

Lay parishioners have taken more leadership roles in parishes, particularly since the changes brought by Vatican II and since the number of priests has been declining.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops says there are about 41,500 diocesan and religious-order priests in the United States. The number has been declining as fewer people follow vocations to the priesthood and as longtime priests retire and die.

The Very Rev. Douglas Mosey, president and rector of Holy Apostles, said that means today’s priests have more duties than ever before, many of which could be delegated to qualified lay members.

“The fact of preparing lay men and women to take on more important roles in administration is certainly important to the life of the church,’’ Mosey told the higher education board.

Students in Holy Apostles’ degree program will also be able to get specialized training in pastoral ministry and religious education. All of the students will take core classes in the church’s social teachings, the norms of the Catholic doctrine, and other topics.

Those who specialize in parish administration also will take classes in administration and management, financial practices, and the law as it relates to parishes.

That has been a touchy subject in Connecticut after recent financial and legal scandals involving priests, and a legislative move to give parishioners more control. The latter came after a group of parishioners, upset about recent cases of priests accused of embezzling money from parishes, asked lawmakers to consider a bill requiring more laypeople on these boards.

In December 2007, the Rev. Michael Jude Fay of Darien was sentenced to 37 months in prison for stealing about $1.3 million from his parish to support a luxurious lifestyle. And last year, the former pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Greenwich, the Rev. Michael Moynihan, was forced to resign from the church amid allegations of financial mismanagement, including claims he kept two bank accounts secret from the diocese. An audit showed $400,000 was missing.