An abbey in California launched a consulting and fundraising firm that its leaders say is helping “serve and nourish the Church during a very unique moment in her history.”

The Abbey Group was launched at St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, California, in 2020 after the priests saw major success with a capital campaign to build a new monastery there. 

The abbey, of the Norbertine order, launched the campaign in 2006 but it stalled after “a decade of fits and starts,” Gregory Clark, the strategic planning director of the Abbey Group, told CNA. The abbey’s leadership consequently assembled “a small, internal team of confreres to rethink the project,” hiring R. Shane Giblin in the process. 

Within short order the abbey had secured over $150 million in commitments, more than doubling earlier projections of $60 million. The team also found “creative ways to immediately pay off all their bank debt in the same year it opened.”

St. Michael’s Abbey Father Prior Chrysostom Baer told CNA the project had transformed to the point that it was “no longer about what the abbey needed but rather the opportunity the benefactors had to do something of great consequence for themselves and the Church.” 

“This not only fit with our calling as religious, but it was simply more effective,” Baer said. 

The major success of that campaign led people to seek out both Giblin and the Norbertine Fathers “asking for strategic counsel on how to move forward with their own projects,” Clark said. 

Giblin and the abbey’s Father Justin Ramos “began offering pro bono counsel for about 18 months until they saw there was a real need in the Church that wasn’t being met.” The Abbey Group was launched as a result. 

St. Michael's Abbey in Orange County, California. Credit: St. Michael's Abbey
St. Michael's Abbey in Orange County, California. Credit: St. Michael's Abbey

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‘Not dissimilar from what St. Norbert encountered 900 years ago’

St. Norbert established the Canons Regular of Prémontré in Prémontré, France, in 1121. The order’s task was in part to revitalize both clergy and lay faithful that had become dissolute in the faith at the time. 

The Abbey Group “exists to help serve and nourish the Church during a very unique moment in her history — not dissimilar from what St. Norbert encountered 900 years ago,” Clark told CNA. 

The initiative “provides strategic counsel and direction to faithful Catholic religious communities, educational institutions, and apostolates around the world,” Clark said, with a focus on institutions that have “ambitious apostolic endeavors and strong leadership but are in need of the financial and temporal resources to accomplish their objectives.”

The Abbey Group team has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for worthy Catholic projects, though it does not engage in any formal marketing. The group intentionally eschews online marketing, avoiding the common business practice to “saturate the internet with messages” of self-promotion. 

Giblin, now serving as CEO and co-founder of the Abbey Group, said this is intentional. “All of our clients come to us through unsolicited word of mouth,” he said. “So our reputation is all we have — if we don’t do good work we won’t exist — and we shouldn’t exist.”

The group has already developed “a queue of clients” — it takes on just four projects at any one time, vigorously vetting each proposal for its fidelity to the Catholic Church as well as the leadership guiding the project in question.

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The majority of the staff are drawn from the laity, and the Norbertine Fathers offer “spiritual guidance” to the team and play a role in the governance of the organization.

Altogether the effort is directed toward “providing worthy Catholic projects with the strategy and resources they need to fulfill what God is calling them to accomplish,” Clark said. 

Giblin said he was fortunate to have had “a front-row seat to see the way Father Abbot and Father Justin were able to work with a special group of people from all over the country to courageously support this unique project.” 

“I saw people grow spiritually through this process and I realized this was just as much an opportunity for them as it was for the abbey,” he said. “It is an authentically Catholic approach to fundraising — one that is desperately needed in our Church during this moment in her history.”

Co-founder of the Abbey Group Father Ramos, meanwhile, said the endeavor’s work “is rooted inexorably in faith and charity, and in Christ.” 

“We’re aiding in discernment,” Ramos said, “to allow generous souls to participate in the renewing of the Church.”