Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Catholic Charities Head to Step Down, Takes Leave From Priesthood

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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