St. Charles Seminary receives $1.2 million grant from Lilly Endowment to improve preaching

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary plants tree in honor of World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation 1 Courtesy Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary CNA 9 2 15 Bishop Timothy Senior, then-rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, leads a tree blessing ceremony for the Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Sept. 1, 2015. | Credit: Rob Cardillo/courtesy of PHS

St. Charles Borromeo Seminary has received the largest single programming grant from a charitable foundation in its more than 190-year history as Lilly Endowment awarded $1.2 million to establish programs to improve preaching by clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The Indianapolis-based foundation announced the award Sept. 27 in the second year of its Compelling Preaching Initiative. It made grants ranging from $250,000 to $1.25 million to churches, universities, and organizations representing a broad base of Christian faith traditions around the United States totaling more than $95 million.

St. Charles was the only Catholic seminary in the country to receive a grant from the foundation this year.

Locally to Philadelphia, also receiving a grant were Eastern University in St. Davids, Delaware County, a private college in the Baptist tradition; and the Presbytery of Philadelphia, the corporate entity for Presbyterian congregations in the Philadelphia region. (See the full list of grantees.)

Lilly Endowment’s initiative intends to help Christian pastors — including Catholic priests and deacons — to proclaim the Gospel “in more engaging and effective ways” and “support preaching that inspires, encourages, and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully,” according to information from the foundation.

“Throughout history, preachers often have needed to adapt their preaching practices to engage new generations of hearers more effectively,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, in a statement. “We are pleased that the organizations receiving grants in this initiative will help pastors and others in ministry engage in the kinds of preaching needed today to ensure that the Gospel message is heard and accessible for all audiences.”

Thanks to the five-year grant, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary will establish a Catholic Preaching Institute to develop programs that, according to seminary officials, will help parishioners better appreciate the word of God and enable clergy to prepare and deliver “more impactful” homilies.

Among its planned activities, the institute will conduct yearlong mentoring programs in which teams comprised of “master preachers” and lay evaluators work directly with priests and deacons to help them improve their craft, according to the seminary.

As St. Charles Seminary prepares to relocate from its Wynnewood campus to Upper Gwynedd in 2024, the new institute will represent “an exciting new venture in the continuing formation of seminarians and ordained clergy,” said seminary rector Father Keith Chylinski in a statement. “Through its innovative work, we hope to spark a homiletic revival that benefits the spiritual life of all the faithful whom we serve.”

Catholic parishioners consistently indicate in surveys that the most important elements to attract people to the celebration of Mass are liturgical music, a welcoming community, and strong preaching.

Daniel Cellucci, chief executive officer of the Catholic Leadership Institute, said research by his organization with numerous dioceses and parishes in the U.S. “shows that preaching that connects Scripture to everyday life is a critical driver in a parish’s spiritual health.”

“We also know that people in the pews want more, they need more, and they deserve more. This innovative institute will better prepare priests to meet those needs,” he said.

The work of the Catholic Preaching Institute will begin next year and will be directed by the seminary’s Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications, currently held by Father Thomas Dailey, OSFS.

Initially the institute will collect information through surveys of archdiocesan parishioners about elements of compelling preaching and clergy who are preaching well.

Following this research period, six activities of the institute, as described in the grant application, will be offered, including:

“Hearing the Word,” a weekly commentary series on the Sunday Scripture readings, will feature seminary faculty and lay commentators offering a “narrative” and “life” interpretation of the readings, respectively. Each installment of the series will be sent to all clergy and interested parishioners via email and made available on a blog.

“The Word from the Pulpit” will offer a 12-part video series on elements of compelling preaching, designed for clergy serving in parish ministry.

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“Disciples of the Word” represents a yearlong mentoring program for those priests and deacons who wish to become better preachers by joining them with an identified compelling priest or deacon preacher, along with three volunteer lay advisers and a seminarian, to review video recorded homilies weekly.

An annual “Festival of the Word” event each January will invite clergy assigned to parish ministry as well as seminarians and other interested persons to showcase compelling preaching.

Public events in the “Word on the Streets” initiative will target neighborhoods or deaneries with preaching on social concerns or Church topics, intending to speak to new and diverse audiences.

“The Word at Hand” will offer a web portal for all homiletics resources offered to anyone interested in compelling preaching.

More information about the Catholic Preaching Institute, including opportunities for people to engage with the various activities, will be posted as it becomes available on St. Charles Seminary’s website.

This article was originally published at and is reprinted here with permission.

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