THE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER IS RUNNING LATE. A crisis has come up, a receptionist explains. This is understandable. A man responsible for 1,050 employees, 20 locations, and a $62 million budget is bound to encounter crises daily.

Yet the crises of the Rev. David F. Ryan, XP-65 (’96), are not the usual corporate variety. As chief operating officer and assistant executive director of Maryville Academy, Ryan most often faces emergencies that involve children whose lives have been shattered by abuse.

Ryan, a Roman Catholic priest, is among the thirty or more clergy members who are graduates of Chicago. Some of them heard the call to religious life before getting their M.B.A.’s; some were beckoned later. All we spoke to agreed: As they follow their vocations, their paths overlap those of their secular counterparts in multiple ways. Equipped with the same tools as their fellow alumni, they shoulder many of the same responsibilities: dealing with human resources issues, managing investments, raising capital, marketing their product, and engineering growth.

Yet there is a difference. The goal of their business is not to turn a profit; it is to inspire lives.

Administrating care
Underlying the budget juggling and administrative duties Ryan performs as Maryville’s chief operating officer is his reason for being there: the children.

“Children come to us from horrific backgrounds, abused and neglected by adults who were supposed to be their stewards,” Ryan said. “We spend months tearing down barriers and years putting hope and trust back into the lives of these children. That’s a challenge every day.”

From the agency’s suburban Des Plaines, Illinois, campus, the hub of the Maryville sites, Ryan oversees the agency’s budget and is responsible for staff and volunteers as well as a host of other areas, ranging from emergency shelter and the witness protection program to maintenance and transportation. There is a correlation, he said, between providing a safe environment for children and taking care of finances, between performing administrative duties and reaching out.

“To me, it has all blended. It is our business to provide a second chance for these children. It is also our business to properly care for the money people donate to us,” he said. Ryan is accountable, too, for funding from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services; nearly all of the children at Maryville are placed there by DCFS.

Maryville Academy was established in the late 1800s to care for children orphaned by the Chicago Fire. Its mission has evolved, and now the academy is a national leader in the treatment of physically, sexually, and emotionally abused and neglected children. An agency of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Maryville provides residential care for more than 1,100 children, ranging from infants to teens. The largest residential facility is the Des Plaines campus, which is home to 271 children.

“This is a very important ministry. This is the Catholic Church made visible,” Ryan said. “For us it’s not just another social service agency. Jesus Christ commanded us to take care of those who are the least among us.”

Being involved in such care has been Ryan’s goal throughout his priesthood, and his path to joining the clergy has been fairly direct. By the time he graduated with a history degree from Quincy University, a Catholic school, Ryan was comfortable and confident with his calling.

“The last part of my senior year, I kept feeling a pull toward the priesthood,” he said, and upon graduation he enrolled in Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis. Although he began his vocation in 1979 as a parish priest, he had an understanding with his bishop that he would work with Catholic Charities at the first opportunity. He directed a children’s home in Alton, Illinois, where he implemented the Maryville model of working with abused children, before joining the academy in 1985.

When Ryan joined Maryville, the $6 million agency had 200 employees at two sites serving 325 children. As the budget and number of locations grew tenfold, so did his need for further education.

After Ryan received his master’s degree in social work in 1994 from Loyola University Chicago, two Maryville board members, Edward Bock, XP-31 (’72), and Arthur Velasquez, ’67, urged him to seek his M.B.A. at Chicago. Bock suggested Ryan explore the Executive Program because he fit the profile: He was in upper management and had more than twenty years’ experience in his field.

“The most important concept I learned at the University of Chicago–thinking outside the box–has been a tremendous benefit in this position,” Ryan said. So too have been the concrete management lessons. Conducting regular focus groups and exit interviews, an idea he took from the Executive Program, has helped Ryan reduce annual staff turnover to 30 percent, considered very low for a child care agency, he said.

“That’s where I feel fortunate–I’m able to integrate my business skills into being a priest,” he said.

Those skills are invaluable, he said, in his mission of good stewardship. “If we believe that the environment provided by Maryville is a gift of God, we are responsible for good stewardship–stewardship of the proper allocation of funds, of personnel, of the human spirit. Everything we do is meant to convey to a child, ‘You’re important. We care about you.’”

Going with the flow
For the Rev. Carol Johnson, ’81, burnout is an occupational hazard, as it is for most people in unpredictable, high-stress work situations. But hers isn’t the phone-banging stress of high-stakes wheeling and dealing; it’s the quiet erosion of one’s emotional core from daily contact with human suffering.

As a chaplain for Vitas Healthcare Corporation, the nation’s largest hospice organization, she spends her days counseling people dying from terminal illnesses and comforting their grieving families. To battle burnout, Johnson spends time with her husband and their son, her two dogs–and her manicurist.

“It sounds silly, but I get my nails done every two weeks. It’s just something that, when I’m working all the time with people who are dying, gives me a lift when I look down. It’s something I do just for me,” she said. “Burnout is the biggest challenge, I think, for any hospice worker. You have to be very intentional about taking care of yourself.”

Working for the Vitas agency in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Johnson is part of an interdisciplinary team that cares for sixty patients. As chaplain, she manages the spiritual care of patients and their families. “This may involve putting them in touch with a minister of their particular religion, or doing counseling myself. It depends on the needs of that particular family,” said Johnson, who is a Presbyterian minister. She also calls on families and offers bereavement counseling.

Currently on a team that serves nursing home patients, Johnson has worked in Vitas’s hospice facility and with patients in its home hospice care program. “Things change around here with about the same speed they change everywhere else: daily,” she said.

Nearly the same pace, it seems, that has taken Johnson around the country, following the career path of her husband, Ron “Kim” Johnson, B.A. ’79, M.B.A. ’80, a general manager in telecommunications. But with each move from state to state–four moves in twelve years–Johnson’s own career evolved.

After two years as a psychiatric nurse, Johnson decided to pursue the subject that had interested her most while working on her nursing degree: accounting. Receiving her M.B.A. in 1981, Johnson started out with Coopers & Lybrand and then moved to Peat Marwick. “It was around that time that diagnostics groups hit the scene. They were absolutely thrilled to have somebody who understood medical terms, because reimbursement was based on diagnosis. I could audit hospitals and understand why one diagnosis would get greater reimbursement than another.”

Johnson next moved to a consulting position within Peat Marwick. It was then, she said, that “I realized I loved working with people. I loved solving problems and helping them with issues they were dealing with, but I wanted to deal with issues at a deeper level than their medical records or the reimbursement system in their hospital.” Driving on the back roads near her Wisconsin home, “I received what I thought was a call, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I’d always been interested in theology, but I had never had any role models,” she explained.

A move to Denver, where she joined a church with several female ministers, helped solidify her decision to pursue a religious vocation. After relocating again to Cincinnati and then Philadelphia, she entered Princeton Seminary.

In the Presbyterian Church, ministers must be ordained to a call, and in 1996 Johnson was ordained to a hospice position in Trenton, New Jersey. After the agency was bought and merged with another–and her position eliminated in the process–Johnson joined Vitas. Through hospice, she has discovered an alternative work style.

“In business situations, I felt like I had to have control over things, so I was constantly working to control everything. In some ways my work now is very freeing, because I don’t have control over what I’m working with at all. And so I just go with the flow.”

The “flow” does include business decisions, though. “Health care, when I was in business school, was just beginning to be run as a business. It’s now a very tough world. Reimbursement is ratcheting down, and I have a great understanding of reimbursement issues. Most health care professionals who are providers are notoriously poor at seeing the big picture, and I can see the whole. I head the ethics committee, and it helps me balance the needs of all different kinds of participants. I could go into management very easily with my business background, but that would take me out of counseling.”

Should she decide to enter management, Johnson is debating whether to stay in hospice care or move to a church, where she said her business background would still be useful.
“We’re looking for different things from churches. It used to be people went to church out of a sense of obligation, or fear, or social pressure–whatever the reason, you were part of a church. Our culture has changed to the point where that’s not a necessity any more. So churches have to market themselves. Guilt is no longer a strong enough motivating factor–which I think is wonderful, because guilt is the worst motivating factor in the world, and it isn’t truly what the gospel message is about. I think this shows we’ve matured as a society in some ways, and we’re seeking in a different way than we were in the past. And that’s not bad.”

Orchestrating growth
Like the head of any organization experiencing growth, the Rev. Ben Aurand, ’71, has found himself face-to-face with lenders, negotiating building loans. But as an Episcopal priest, Aurand has found a slight edge: bankers are unprepared for his depth of knowledge.

“I like to listen to what everybody’s saying before I let on that I know what they’re saying,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m sure there are folks who are surprised that I understand what they’re talking about, that they can put away the Dick and Jane textbooks they’ve pulled out to explain to the poor priest exactly what is happening here.”

For the past eleven years Aurand has been the rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in College Station, Texas, on the edge of the Texas A & M campus. Leading a congregation of eight hundred members, Aurand orchestrated the fundraising for a new sanctuary in 1994 and is now in the midst of a building campaign for a new parish hall and youth complex.

“We’ve actually grown quite a bit in the past ten years,” he said. The congregation that numbered 160 families when he started has nearly doubled. “Much of the growth happened when we built the new sanctuary.” The church’s original chapel–“a gorgeous little chapel that seats 110 if we all stagger our breathing”–was built in 1938 to serve students and faculty of Texas A & M University.
The new sanctuary, built in addition to the original one, seats 250. “Overnight, our attendance and then our membership took off–because it could,” Aurand said. “It’s amazing. It’s a good case history for church growth.” Because of the church’s physical size limitations, church membership stayed the same for thirty years, even though the city of College Station grew fivefold during that time, as did the university.

“The barriers to membership expansion were obvious,” Aurand said. “You did not have to have an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago to recognize the marketing potential here. The congregation just never could put together the package to finance it.”

But Aurand could. He convened a long-range planning committee to devise a strategic plan, drawing the parish into the process through surveys and enlisting the help of volunteers.

“As the church has grown, I’ve had to learn to let other people do things, and that’s been a bit of a challenge,” he said. Restructuring to accommodate growth, Aurand organized a lay staff of volunteers. “I’ve given them jobs they enjoy doing and that are very important jobs, and they in turn recruit volunteers to help them. They are kind of line managers, and it’s the volunteers on the next level down that are carrying out the work.”

Although a church is essentially a small business, Aurand finds one fundamental difference: the motivation for running it. “I think in a church, the motivation really comes from deep within your own relationship with God, and the reason you’re doing this is because God has called you to do this. God is your stockholder, if you will. And that’s rather humbling. It can also be rather frightening. But if you recognize that God is also the one that is giving you everything to allow you to get the job done, then you can handle that.”

Aurand did not always harbor such an attitude; for some years before he became a priest, he didn’t even attend church.

“Spiritually, my life changed in 1976,” he said. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, Aurand made a career switch to business, receiving his M.B.A. through the 190 program and going to work for A.G. Becker and Company, where he produced audiotapes of an investment research program.

Although the program he produced was “very successful, a clever little marketing deal,” Aurand said his personal life was deteriorating. Regular travel and a “fairly severe drinking problem” put his marriage on the rocks, and his wife presented him with an ultimatum. “She was going back to school and back to church, and she really didn’t care much about what I did,” he said.

He joined her in attending an Episcopal church and “was amazed. I felt for the first time that I was accepted in church. That was a good experience, and very much surprising.”

Aurand and his wife became involved with the church, and eventually he sought a deeper commitment. After attending seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, from 1979 to 1982, he served as assistant priest at a 1,500-member congregation in Austin, Texas, before being called to St. Thomas.

Although many of his challenges as rector are similar to those of his business days, his overall goal is unique to his vocation.

“Looking very short-term, my biggest challenge is this fund drive. But my basic call is to empower people and to make them disciples of Jesus Christ. These other things are means to that end. The real challenge is to let people know that God loves them, and they are of infinite worth in his eyes and of infinite value to humankind. And that’s a nice long-term goal to work toward.”–C.N.

At Maryville Academy, the Rev. David F. Ryan, XP-65 (’96) faces the same complexities as any chief operating officer of a multimillion-dollar organization. Yet at the core of his work is a simple mission: caring for the abused and neglected children at Maryville. "It is our business to provide a second chance for these children," he said.


The Rev. Carol Johnson, ’81, a former accountant, found a calling–and a new work style–as a hospice chaplain. "In business situations, I was constantly working to control everything," she said. "In some ways, my work now is very freeing, because I don't have control over what I"m working with at all. So I go with the flow."


Although heading a congregation is much like running a small business, the Rev. Ben Aurand, ’71, finds a fundamental difference in the motivation for doing it. "I think in a church, the motivation really comes from deep within your own relationship with God, and the reason you're doing it is because God has called you do it," he said. "God is your stockholder, if you will. And that's rather humbling."


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