McGrath Institute receives Lilly Endowment grant for parish ministry enrichment programs

By Meg Mirshak

Lilly EndowmentLilly Endowment

The McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame has been awarded $1 million by Lilly Endowment Inc. to expand programs for ordained and lay pastoral leaders in a shifting ministry landscape. As recipient of planning funds for the Thriving in Ministry Initiative, the McGrath Institute will expand its summer program for diocesan priests and initiate a program that supports the professional and pastoral leadership development of lay ministers early in their careers.

The Thriving in Ministry Initiative supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry. The McGrath Institute is one of 24 organizations receiving grants totalling more than $20 million from the initiative.

“The shifting trends in Church ministry signal a strong need for programs dedicated to ongoing formation, support, and mentorship of leaders entrusted with teaching and shepherding Catholics across the United States and globe,” said John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life. “The generosity of Lilly Endowment will generate long-lasting impact and bear abundant fruit for the life of the Catholic Church.”

With the Lilly Endowment grant, the McGrath Institute will continue the Bishop D’Arcy Program in Priestly Renewal, which began in 2016 to provide a weeklong retreat for about a dozen diocesan priests on the Notre Dame campus. The program seeks to support leader priests so that they can form and mentor younger priests who are fewer in number but will be asked to do more for longer during their ministerial careers. Since 1965, the number of U.S. Catholic priests has dropped 36 percent, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Of the 37,000 priests today, just over 60 percent are active in ministry compared to 94 percent active priests in 1965.

The second initiative of the planning grant will address the rising total of lay professional ministers in the United States. Since 1995, the number of lay professional ministers has increased from 11,000 to 23,000, according to CARA. An additional 23,000 are enrolled in lay ecclesial formation programs.

The Strong Foundations for Pastoral Leaders Program will support pastoral leaders as they seek to balance the early years of their career in ministry with familial and financial commitments. The program will host two different groups of 12 to 18 young lay leaders during the summer at Notre Dame. The participants will spend four days attending a conference alongside more experienced ministers and another four days in a leadership development seminar focused on the early years of their career. The young leaders will benefit from experienced mentors who will work with them for several years.

“Many pastors are seeking role models and wise colleagues who can guide them through professional transitions and challenges encountered in particular ministry contexts,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Our hope is that this grant to the McGrath Institute for Church Life will support a new wave of efforts that help clergy thrive and lead their congregations more effectively.”

Each of the McGrath Institute programs will place special emphasis on serving priests and leaders from the Black Catholic and Hispanic Catholic populations. The institute will work with the National Black Catholic Congress and diocesan partners in the southeast and southwest where Hispanic populations are growing disproportionately to the number of Hispanic pastoral leaders. A series of online courses will be developed by 2022 to meet the need for theological and pastoral education for Spanish-speaking Catholics among other needs in the Church.

Contact: Brett Robinson, director of communications, McGrath Institute for Church Life, 574-631-6109,

Originally published by Meg Mirshak at on January 16, 2018.