Project Legacy aids recruitment, training of mission leaders, ethicists, pastoral care staff

April 15, 2019


Systems and facilities throughout the Catholic health ministry need to fill key positions in mission leadership, ethics and pastoral care. And, without directed, urgent action to attract and develop qualified candidates for entry-level, mid-career and leadership positions, shortages will worsen with the onslaught of retirements anticipated in the next several years.


"We are on a burning platform right now," says Brian Smith, CHA senior director of mission innovation and integration. "This is a ministry-wide concern requiring a ministry-wide response."

To assist the ministry in talent development and succession planning in mission, ethics and pastoral care, CHA is coordinating a multifaceted initiative called Project Legacy.

Conceived as a collaborative effort among ministry members, Project Legacy is intended as a "call to action," Smith says. It will serve as a platform for ministry members to share best practices and create a type of central repository of resources and data that can inform recruitment efforts, hiring and professional development in these fields.

Foundational work began last year. CHA engaged Emergent Success, a leadership consultancy, to frame the issues. The consultants surveyed CHA membership; the human resources departments of 28 systems shared information related to recruitment, retention and succession planning for their mission leaders, ethicists and chaplains.

In addition, the researchers conducted phone interviews with 51 key stakeholders including sponsors, chief executives and mission leaders. Many of those surveyed said that competing priorities had delayed a focused response to mission workforce shortages, but the issue no longer can be ignored.

The survey work began in April 2018. CHA staff formed three work groups in June 2018: one around core job competencies in the target professions, one around recruitment, and one around compensation and career path development. There was some overlap in the recommendations of the three groups.

The core competencies work group recommended that in addition to being content experts in theology, mission leaders and ethicists should have a working knowledge of health care finance, business operations and strategic planning in order to contribute to overall goals of their organizations. They said distinct skill sets should be identified for entry-level, mid-level and senior positions. Further, the group recommended that systems create stairstep career paths in mission and ethics that include personal formation and spiritual development to prepare people for advancement and leadership positions in their disciplines.

The recruitment work group recommended that CHA and its members nurture relationships with Catholic academic institutions in a position to steer students into careers in mission, ethics and pastoral care. Smith says that CHA had paused its efforts to promote talent recruitment on campuses after hearing from eager students frustrated in their efforts to identify and land entry-level ministry jobs because they had no practical experience in their fields of interest.

To give young talent an entry point, Smith says, CHA is encouraging member systems to create internships, fellowships and entry-level positions.

The compensation and career development work group recommended that systems develop formal career paths with specific competencies, clear job titles and accountabilities. The group said compensation models need to be aligned with the scope of responsibilities and be fair and equitable when scored against other executive-level positions.

Barriers to address
Stephen Taluja is chief ministry formation officer at Bon Secours Mercy Health. He served on one of the work groups as well as on an advisory committee for Project Legacy. Echoing the findings of the phone interviews, surveys and work group analyses, he says a big problem is the lack of awareness of these career opportunities, including among people in parishes and among university students — even those studying theology, ethics and related subjects.


And, it is rare, he adds, for people who are interested in management posts to have the necessary academic background, along with the required experience and executive presence to be ready for ministry leadership positions in ethics, mission and pastoral care. This makes it extremely difficult to recruit for vacant positions, and so it has become fairly common for ministry organizations to recruit talented leaders from one another. "This does not benefit the ministry at large," Taluja says.

Also, he adds, compensation can be low for some of these positions, especially for those in pastoral care, and particularly given that master's level preparation often is required for pastoral care positions.

Taluja notes that in the past, mission, ethics and pastoral care jobs usually were held by clergy or former religious. Therefore, in general, they have had a deep "experience, immersion into and understanding of the tradition of the Catholic Church and culture," as compared with newer entrants in the field "whose only experience of theology and church is based on a two-year graduate degree," Taluja says.

This CHA graphic sets out competencies needed for effective mission leadership. As part of Project Legacy, CHA plans to work with members to identify competencies along a career continuum from entry-level, mid-career to executive positions in mission and ethics.

Today's candidates for mission, ethics and chaplaincy positions likely have not had the same preparation — and likely have grown up in a very different society and even a different church culture — than their predecessors. Taluja says during their formative years younger people witnessed waves of scandals in the church and have been living in an environment in which the credibility of the church is being challenged. Additionally, regular church attendance has been declining and the values of the church are increasingly being viewed as at odds with those of the broader culture.

So, a different type of formation may be needed by newly hired mission, ethics and chaplaincy staff. Taluja says formation always should be tailored to the needs of individuals, and in the case of these younger candidates for mission roles, it may be appropriate to include mentoring, orientation, coaching and more intentional socialization into the rich culture of the church by those who have been immersed in the ministry longer.

Action plan
Given these and other concerns surfaced in years past and confirmed through the Project Legacy surveying, CHA — along with members in the three work groups and advisory committee — came up with a set of tactics to be carried out over the next three years.

This year, the association is building awareness of its newly revised core competencies for the ethicist position. The association also is creating a central database for members to post open positions in mission, ethics and pastoral care and for candidates to post resumes. And CHA's website will highlight the work of members who are building career ladders in ethics, mission and/or pastoral care. For instance, Ascension Health, CHRISTUS Health and Trinity Health have created fellowships, internships and/or entry-level positions in mission departments.

From now through June 2020, CHA will work with members to:

  • Update CHA's mission leader competency resources
  • Offer guidance to members establishing mentorships for early career professionals
  • Work with members to revise, refine and stratify job descriptions to reflect the different skills required at different career stages
  • Assist members in creating internships and fellowships

Over the longer term, CHA will ask academic programs to incorporate needed skills and competencies into their curriculum. Having encouraged ministry members to create entry-level mission, pastoral care and ethics positions, the association will ask academic institutions to promote those opportunities.

Taluja says the generational change underway in mission, ethics and chaplaincy poses opportunities as well as challenges. With intentionality and new approaches to recruitment, formation and retention, the ministry could build a more diverse workforce that better reflects the populations it serves. "We have a real good opportunity here to think of this in a new way," he says of the succession issue.

He says seasoned mission leaders can shape and mentor those starting their careers. "I see this as an invitation for them to pass on the very best of their legacy," he says.

Catholic University, Georgetown, CHA inaugurate graduate offerings in Catholic clinical ethics

CHA, Georgetown University and the Catholic University of America have launched a clinical ethics program to equip people to understand and assess complex bioethical issues and dilemmas in the context of church teaching and scientific possibility.

The program combines the clinical expertise of Georgetown's faculty with the theological expertise of Catholic University's faculty. Ethicists from both facilities are on the faculty. The program was designed for ministry professionals and others with an ethics or pastoral background wishing to advance their careers and clinicians and others with an interest in Catholic bioethics.

Through the program, students complete 14 credit hours and a capstone project to qualify for a certificate in Catholic clinical ethics. The curriculum includes three core courses and one elective. Participants may earn a master's degree in Catholic clinical ethics by completing 30 credit hours. The master's curriculum includes six core courses and three electives and requires the completion of a clinical practicum and capstone project. In both programs, each course is offered online one night a week for 12 to 14 consecutive weeks.

The first course in the sequence, "Philosophy of Medicine," began in January.


Mary Paul, Ascension vice president of mission integration, is in the master's program and is enrolled in the course. At Ascension she is tasked with enabling the system to strengthen its mission to "serve all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable" and to do so in a way that is rooted "in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer."

Paul says she is pursuing the program to boost her ability to contribute to the transformation of Catholic health care. Ethics, within the framework of the Catholic moral tradition, she says, offers an important lens for this transformation. For example, she says, engagement in the development and integration of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, and genomics should help ensure that all persons are not only served, but that they are not marginalized by those same technologies.

She says of her fellow students and course faculty, "It is really energizing to share ideas with one another. I think this course is an opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the Catholic faith tradition, to understand how it applies to and can advance our work."

Information on the program is available at The application for the fall 2019 cohort of the program is due May 15.



CHA works with graduate schools to enhance mission, ethics education offerings

A long-running concern in Catholic health care is that there are not enough candidates with the requisite educational background and training to qualify for leadership positions in mission and ethics — some of the very positions that CHA is focusing on in its Project Legacy succession planning work.

Most such ministry positions require at least a master's in Catholic theology or similar subject area, says Fr. Charlie Bouchard, OP, as well as additional postgraduate studies in specialty areas such as organizational ethics, bioethics, formation and population health. Fr. Bouchard is CHA senior director of theology and sponsorship.


Paul Scherz, associate professor of moral theology and ethics at the school of theology and religious studies at the Catholic University of America, adds that because the world of medicine is hugely complex, individuals in these positions need continuing education that equips them to handle thorny emergent issues.

To help ensure there is a wide array of educational options for people interested in pursuing mission or ethics leadership roles, CHA is continually building and expanding upon relationships with Catholic colleges and universities. The association identifies and provides input on academic content that will equip students for leadership in ethics and mission, says Nate Hibner, CHA director of ethics.

CHA has relationships with Catholic universities and colleges offering graduate study in fields related to mission and ethics, including Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis; Boston College; Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; Duquesne University, Pittsburgh; Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; Loyola University Chicago; Marquette University of Milwaukee; Saint Joseph's University of Philadelphia; and Saint Louis University. (This is not an exhaustive list.)


CHA's Project Legacy has the association expanding upon such efforts. The plan also has CHA working with Catholic colleges and universities to better market mission and ethics leadership positions to students. Currently, many students are not aware of the extent of the opportunities to advance in mission and ethics careers in Catholic health systems and facilities.

Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics and a professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center, says, "Catholic health care is extremely important in the health care landscape in the U.S." To sustain it, he says, leaders in mission and ethics need to know how to pass on Catholic health care values to health system staff in ways that are relevant and applicable to an individual's work.

That's why well-trained and well-formed mission and ethics leaders are so essential to the ministry, he says.




Copyright © 2019 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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