Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Catholic Charities Head to Step Down, Takes Leave From Priesthood

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The CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis will leave the organization at the end of June -- in part to decide whether to remain a priest.

"I've been working in [the church] since just before I was 20," said the Rev. John Estrem, 48. "Both professionally and personally, it just became apparent that I need to stand outside of it for a while, to do some discernment about the path for my life."

The charity offers housing, shelter, meals and a wide range of other services to about 40,000 people a year with a $35 million annual budget.

Estrem said he has asked Archbishop John Nienstedt, who appoints the Catholic Charities CEO, for a year away from priestly duties. In addition to time for contemplation, Estrem said, in a month he will probably take a job with a smaller nonprofit that "works helping people in need, which has been my passion."

Estrem has been CEO of Catholic Charities since 2005 and will leave June 30. A native of the Twin Cities, he was rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul for 10 years and served several other parishes.

Nienstedt has launched a national search to replace Estrem. For the first time, whoever is chosen will not be a priest, Estrem said.

Most other Catholic Charities organizations are run by lay people, he said, "because the job has become much more one of running a corporation."

The archbishop appointed former board chairman Robert Spinner as interim CEO. Spinner , 66, was president of Abbott Northwestern Hospital for 10 years and later president of Allina Hospitals and Clinics, retiring in 2001.

Spinner said he expects a new CEO to be named by the end of 2009.


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