Interview with Fr. Ben Hasse on The Petrus Development Show
Fr. Ben Hasse, Pastor at St. Albert the Great University Parish
In this episode, Andrew visits with Fr. Ben Hasse, the Pastor of St. Albert the Great University Parish in Houghton, Michigan and St. Anne Catholic Church in Chassell, Michigan. St. Al’s is an active and vibrant parish and home to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of Michigan Technological University, Finlandia University, and Gogebic Community College in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In addition to being pastor of two parishes, Fr. Ben is the vocations director for the Diocese of Marquette. During their conversation, he joyfully tells of his experience in ministry and development for the university parish. He speaks of the practical concerns of running a parish and student center while also emphasizing the importance of relationship.
- Ben Hasse experienced a powerful retreat in his junior year of high school then started going to daily mass and went back to confession often. He then quickly began to hear a call to the priesthood as a question…what if God is calling me to be a priest? This scared him. He didn’t want to think about it.
- He had a great experience of campus ministry at Purdue University where he earned a BS in Forestry and a BA in Spanish.
- He didn’t date seriously, although was interested in the idea of married life. His parents were peace corps volunteers. He was attracted to service. He spent 31 months in El Salvador. His culture shock was actually with his peace corps friends in how secular they were. He felt he had more in common with those in the village whom he attended Mass with.
- He was given a breviary as a graduation gift and began praying with it. Within a year of being in the peace corps he shifted from being afraid of becoming a priest to having a trust in God.
- Started seminary at Mundelein seminary in Illinois in 2004. He was ordained in 2009.
- Fr. Ben was assigned at St. Michael’s in Marquette as an associate to Fr. Larry VanDam who made a significant impact on him. He began campus ministry right away at NMU. After two years he then went back to seminary and earned his STL in Systematic Theology.
- Fr. Ben was then was made Pastor of three parishes in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan – in Bessemer, Wakefield, and Marinescous. He was transferred in his second year to St. Al’s and St. Anne’s serving MTU and the local community colleges. He was nervous to leave his first Pastorate. He says the most difficult vow a priest makes is of obedience.
- Fun fact: Chapel Rats are student residents at the Newman House. Since St. Al’s was founded they’ve been called this. Original residents lived in a room with no windows, so they were affectionately called the Chapel Rats. These men shovel the sidewalks, clean the bathrooms, etc. The Chapel Rat program brings a deep student connection to the parish. Quite a few vocations have come out of it.
- Father has been involved in youth ministry since he was about 17 years old. Working with young adults has been a longstanding blessing in his life.
- MTU is out in the boondocks so there are no commuter students. When they get there for school, they are there to stay. They are more available to be reached by the campus ministry. The initial challenge at MTU is the scientific/engineering minds, but once they get students to realize they don’t have to choose between faith and science, intellectual matters of the faith really resonate with them. Fr. sees lots of opportunities there.
- Fun fact: Fr. Ben and his past two predecessors at St. Al’s all have the same birthday.
- When he first arrived, some of the student leaders communicated to him that they needed to do more student outreach. Father thought FOCUS would help facilitate that outreach. He needed the Bishop’s approval and $60,000. It was a huge blessing that an alumni donor was willing to pay for it. God really provided for them.
- When the 2014 school year began they had 4 FOCUS missionaries. Within 6 weeks they had 80 students enrolled in bible studies. Then all of sudden there were more people coming to confession, the holy hours, bringing their friends to Mass, etc.
- Fr. Ben took their students to SEEK that year where he heard a talk about the importance of seeking resources from Alumni. They have always had generous alumni support there at St. Al’s and have had very little support from the Diocese.
- Father didn’t know how they would come up with the money to cover the second year of FOCUS, but talked with Petrus Development more about the importance of having that Alumni Base. St. Al’s signed a contract with Petrus in 2015 and hired Rhen Hoehn as Development Director that fall.
- 5 months into Fr. Ben’s assignment at St. Al’s he was also asked to be the Vocations Director of the Diocese of Marquette. He felt he was clearly in over his head. The Lord really showed him that he needed a bigger team. There was a grace in being pushed past his comfort zone because he was able to accomplish so much more with his team of staff, student leaders, and volunteers than by just trying to work harder on his own. Fr. says if what you’re doing matters, it’s worth it to get others involved.
- Fr. Ben says we need more young people involved in the Church right now and asks, what would the American church look like if vibrant campus ministry was happening all over the country? There is no question there that the Holy Spirit is moving.
- Fr. Ben believes there are a lot of people in our world that would respond to an invitation to church. Andrew draws a parallel between that invitation to church and making the ask in fundraising. We aren’t called to do everything, but it’s important to offer the invitation to someone who you see might have an interest.
- Fr. Ben says we need to be talking about vocations and inviting people to vocations. A parallel to talking about vocations is the question of how to pay for these vocations.
- How we think about the human person is significant. We are an integrated body, mind, and soul. The Mass engages the whole person. (it is not just an intellectual process and it’s not just going through the motions)
- Fundraising is very pragmatic. You have to feed the seminarians. You have to feed the college students. But if you feed them and don’t talk about Jesus, you have a problem. (campus ministry is 70% Catering) The Diaconate came out of how to feed the orphans and the widows; from this very pragmatic/practical need.
- Fundraising may be difficult, but it’s healthy that we have to communicate that what we’re doing matters. St. Al’s is responsible for their own funding and Fr. Ben thinks that’s why they have flourished.
- St. Al’s is in the process of a capital campaign. Fr. saw that it was important to dream. He also realized that it was reasonable to assume they could raise large amounts of money.
- In the Spring 2018 they did a campaign study. They tested a 5 million dollar goal. This was way outside of Father’s comfort zone then (at the time they had a $400,000-$500,000 annual fund) He felt that their biggest need was growth in ministry, but he realized they actual needed physical stuff – bigger space, renovate old facilities. And this stuff is intelligible to parishioners, but more education would be needed to inform donors on what was needed for the ministry itself. Most donors/parishioners thought the growth in mass attendance/etc were a reflection of his ministry. He found that he needed to communicate better that the FOCUS missionaries, who have much more time with the students than he does, are making a huge difference. Building the team was important for when he is no longer there. They adjusted their goal to close to $3 million. (Pi times a million really engaged the students)
- Recruitment of committee members has been important and the Alumni Advisory Council was created.
- Fr. Ben mentions the Universal Call to Holiness – This greatly impacted him. He talks of the necessity of vibrant engagement of real responsibility and expertise of the clergy and laity. Working with Petrus and FOCUS father has realized that he needs to learn from these young missionaries. And he hopes they’ve received something in return from him. Fr. Ben says that priests won’t always be best at all the practical needs. The development process has taught him that bringing everyone together with their strengths allows the Holy Spirit to bring forth fruit in the life of the Church. He says this is very apparent in campus ministry and talks of a message of hope.
- Lightning Round:
- If you could fund raise for any cause?: Raising up vocations for his home diocese
- If you could get a donor meeting with anyone, who?: Catherine Boniface was the wife of one of the lumber barons in their area. She was a devout Catholic. He would love to hear her story. Also, their founding bishop got funding for their diocese through the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He would love to hear that story.
- Is there enough money out there for every organization that’s doing good work?: Yes. There are a huge number of people who haven’t full embraced a stewardship model for their lives. Using our money well in a holy way is not extraneous to the gospel. Being generous is the best thing we can do for ourselves. God will not be outdone in generosity.
- If you could go back in time and offer yourself one piece of advice: He doesn’t feel very effective/confident when it comes to making the ask. The ask flows naturally out of what he believes is true; that this mission is worthwhile. That proclaiming Jesus and his Church into the lives of our young adults is an absolutely essential and vital thing in the life of the Church. Wishes he could have learned that sooner.
- 3 people who have most influenced your growth as a priest or a development professional?: His parents (didn’t spend lots of money but had good experiences with his family, frugally. He learned that money was a tool but not an end. One of the most intuitive things he’s done with his resources is give them away), Fr. Joe Guae (one of his first regular confessors when he came back to confession at 17 years old. Has been instrumental in the vocations of many of their priests in the diocese. Living counter example of his fears of not living a joyful life as a priest. Showed him that it was clearly possible to be joyful and faithful as a priest), Fr. Larry VanDam (Was able to pick his brain about how he was able to expand the ministry there at St. Al’s. He is on their advisory committee.)
Transcript coming soon
Giving to religious causes vastly exceeds any other category in the nonprofit sector, but faith-based organizations often struggle the most with fundraising effectively. Join Andrew Robison, President of Petrus Development, as he explores this topic through honest and revealing conversations with church leaders, executive directors and development professionals from the nonprofit community.
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