Paul F. Peri, Catholic Parish Administration: A Handbook (New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2012), 72 pages, ISBN 978-8091-4752-6 ($9.95)
Father Paul F. Peri, a veteran priest of the Archdiocese of Portland and professor at Mount Angel Seminary, has published a modest book that intends to "fly at twenty thousand feet" over the subject of parish administration in a way that is decidedly "nontechnical" (p. 2).
writes "especially for seminarians," and that distinguishes the book from anything currently on the market.
The book's title invites comparison with The Parish Management Handbook, edited in 2003 by Charles E. Zech, whose encouragement Peri
does not treat the theology of parish administration (as does Zech's book), but it is rich in practical insight for the pastor who aspires to be "the shepherd of parish relationships" (67).
The phrase expresses Peri's conviction that administration is not a merely secular task.
The key to being the shepherd of parish relationships is personal maturity.
For Peri, the mature priest-pastor must be able to act prudently and to seek help when it is needed (69).
An experienced pastor, Peri views administration as a worthy vocation and claims that pastors will typically devote one-half of their time to it (8).
Peri's book has no chapter dedicated entirely to pastoral and finance councils, but it treats parish consultation in a number of places, starting in Chapter One.
rightly characterizes the pastoral council in terms of "pastoral planning" (15), which he
describes in very schematic terms.
Chapter One also describes the parish finance council as an "advisor" to the pastor, who is the "steward for the parish mission.
Who defines the mission?
The pastoral council has "described" it "for the community" (16), said Peri
, indicating what for him is a council duty.
In Chapter Two, Peri
advises the pastor to consult his
councils and staff members thoroughly (23).
In Chapter Four, he
states that the pastor should "train" the finance council so that, by its review and scrutiny of the budget, "unpleasant financial scandals will not happen" (42).
encourages pastors to avail themselves of the expertise available through chancery officials, who "will give their best estimates of how health insurance, property insurance, and other costs are trending" (44).
does not analyze pastoral and finance councils in detail, but certainly encourages pastors to make use of them.
The chapter focuses on the practice of financial control, and Peri
believes that the pastor should co-sign every parish check.
wants the parish budget to be developed by means of a thorough consultation, and states that parishioners "have a right" to be kept informed about parish finances (45).
There is no detailed explanation of how they are to be informed, but Peri
clearly asserts the principle.
After examining the parish budget, Peri turns to the individual finances of the priest.
urges individual priests to begin saving early for their retirement.
offers a down-to-earth description of how to budget, starting with the estimation of parish income and proceeding to its allocation.
Catholic Parish Administration surprises the reader with chapters on "Property" and on "Insurance and Risk Management" - two chapters that have no counterparts in Zech's book or in any other guide to Catholic Church management that I know.
Property and insurance are usually treated in management handbooks under the heading of civil law.
does not tackle that vast subject, but exposes the concerns of a pastor who may be offered property as a donation or for sale, and who wants to lower insurance costs and limit risks to the parish.
In short, Peri's book has a modest aim.
As a handbook for seminarians, it conveys the seriousness of administration for men who aspire to the calling of pastor, but leaves the details of management theory to other textbooks.
The particularity of his
book is its emphasis on relationships.
The pastor is engaged in relationships - ecclesial relationships with his
bishop and fellow priests; professional relationships with the parish's employees, vendors, and consultants; and pastoral relationships with his
parishioners for whom he
is priest and leader.
"Church work," writes Peri
, "is about building and sustaining relationships" (10).