Grant will help Newman Theological College prepare new pastoral leaders

Newman Theological College in Edmonton received a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., a private family-founded philanthropic organization based in Indiana. (Photo by Alan Schietzsch, Grandin Media. - CCN)

By Quinton Amundson,  The Catholic Register

[Canadian Catholic News] – Edmonton’s Newman Theological College (NTC) heads into the new year armed with a nearly $1 million grant it hopes to use to reverse the decline in young people seeking pastoral leadership positions.

The Catholic college received a financial boost of $986,510 (US) from the Lilly Endowment Inc., a private family-founded philanthropic organization based in Indiana, as part of its Pathways to Tomorrow Initiative to bolster the capacities of theological schools throughout North America.

“Everyone knows that for decades the Catholic Church has had too few clergy and lay people ready for leadership in our parishes,” said Dr. Jason West, Newman’s president. Many times “the only answer to this has been to consolidate local parishes and replace them with megachurches,” he said.

“Newman Theological College’s Pathways to Ministry project offers a new direction: we have analyzed the root causes of the crisis in ministry and with this generous grant from the Lilly Endowment we are empowered to implement a practical and common sense set of solutions to increase the number of people studying for ministry.”

A total of $82 million in grants are being divvied up among 84 schools in phase two of the three-part Pathways project.

Theological schools chosen for stage three will be invited to submit a proposal by March for a large-scale enterprise that would offer a sustainable model of theological education and also support pastors and congregational lay ministers for years to come.

West said the Newman team has reached out to over 100 different individuals, from bishops, parents, seminarians and theology students, to create an immersive Pathway to Ministry project.

“We gathered a lot of great information about the reasons that lead people to studying theology and serving the Church in certain ways, and uncovering the obstacles that have arisen. This informed our proposal,” he said.

West believes the panel responded to Newman’s intent to collaborate with Catholic agencies across Canada as an effective method to identify the next generation of faith leaders.

“We have developed a practical solution in that many of our Catholic agencies and educational networks are in contact with young people who have been engaged in the life of the Church,” he said. “We have not yet in a conscious, deliberate way identified who those young people who are showing potential for leadership and love of the Church through their experience in it.”

West said one of the consequences of the current environment of fewer churches and larger congregations is the increased difficulty for parish pastors to easily identify the young people who may have a vocation to pursue theological leadership.

West envisions a three-year scope for the Pathway to Ministry project. To gain a complete picture of the state of vocations and ecclesial leadership in Canada, West hopes to fully sketch the backgrounds of the type of people who serve the Church, and perhaps more importantly, discover reasons people who intended to pursue theology and discipleship ultimately walked away at some point during the journey.

A second component of the three-year plan is building a network of schools, college chaplaincies, non-profits and faith-based youth organizations like NET Ministries and Catholic Christian Outreach to create an organic pipeline of future leaders.

The final mission is for Newman to collaborate with different Catholic groups across the country to offer the type of transformational retreats or worship events that enhance a young person’s inner desire to seek a vocation.