Saint Charles Seminary Receives $1.2 Million Grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to Improve Preaching

By Matthew Gambino • Posted October 5, 2023

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary has received the largest single programming grant from a charitable foundation in its 192-year history as Lilly Endowment, Inc. awarded $1.2 million to establish programs to improve preaching by clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The Indianapolis-based foundation announced the award Sept. 27 in the second year of its Compelling Preaching Initiative. It made grants ranging from $250,000 to $1.25 million to churches, universities and organizations representing a broad base of Christian faith traditions around the United States totaling more than $95 million.

Saint Charles was the only Catholic seminary in the country named as a recipient of one of the eighty-one grants awarded in the initiative this year.

The initiative is also providing grants to other Catholic educational institutions engaged in the theological formation of preachers, including the Catholic Theological Union at Chicago, the Catholic University of America, Marian University, Saint John’s University, and Seton Hall University.  

Other Catholic recipients benefitting from this initiative are the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Catholic Extension (in Chicago), Corazón Puro (formed under the guidance of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Bronx, NY), and the St. Thomas More Catholic Community in St. Paul, MN.”

Locally, also receiving a grant were Eastern University in St. Davids, Delaware County, a private college in the Baptist tradition; and the Presbytery of Philadelphia, the corporate entity for Presbyterian congregations in the Philadelphia region. (See the full list of grantees.)

Lilly Endowment’s initiative intends to help Christian pastors – including Catholic priests and deacons – to proclaim the Gospel “in more engaging and effective ways” and “support preaching that inspires, encourages and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully,” according to information from the foundation.

“Throughout history, preachers often have needed to adapt their preaching practices to engage new generations of hearers more effectively,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, in a statement. “We are pleased that the organizations receiving grants in this initiative will help pastors and others in ministry engage in the kinds of preaching needed today to ensure that the Gospel message is heard and accessible for all audiences.”

Thanks to the five-year grant, Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary will establish a Catholic Preaching Institute to develop programs that, according to seminary officials, will help parishioners better appreciate the Word of God and enable clergy to prepare and deliver “more impactful” homilies.

Among its planned activities, the institute will conduct year-long mentoring programs in which teams comprised of “master preachers” and lay evaluators work directly with priests and deacons to help them improve their craft, according to the seminary.

As Saint Charles Seminary prepares to relocate from its Wynnewood campus to Upper Gwynedd in 2024, the new institute will represent “an exciting new venture in the continuing formation of seminarians and ordained clergy,” said seminary rector Father Keith Chylinski in a statement. “Through its innovative work, we hope to spark a homiletic revival that benefits the spiritual lives of all the faithful whom we serve.”

Catholic parishioners consistently indicate in surveys that the most important elements to attract people to the celebration of Mass are liturgical music, a welcoming community and strong preaching.

Daniel Cellucci, chief executive officer of the Catholic Leadership Institute, said research by his organization with numerous dioceses and parishes in the U.S. “shows that preaching that connects Scripture to everyday life is a critical driver in a parish’s spiritual health.”

“We also know that people in the pews want more, they need more, and they deserve more. This innovative institute will better prepare priests to meet those needs,” he said.

The work of the Catholic Preaching Institute will begin next year and will be directed by the seminary’s Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications, currently held by Father Thomas Dailey, O.S.F.S.

Initially the institute will collect information through surveys of archdiocesan parishioners about elements of compelling preaching, and clergy who are preaching well.

Following this research period, six activities of the institute, as described in the grant application, will be offered, including:

“Hearing the Word,” a weekly commentary series on the Sunday Scripture readings, will feature seminary faculty and lay commentators offering a “narrative” and “life” interpretation of the readings, respectively. Each installment of the series will be sent to all clergy and interested parishioners via email, and made available on a blog.

“The Word from the Pulpit” will offer a 12-part video series on elements of compelling preaching, designed for clergy serving in parish ministry.

“Disciples of the Word” represents a year-long mentoring program for those priests and deacons who wish to become better preachers by joining them with an identified compelling priest or deacon preacher, along with three volunteer lay advisors and a seminarian, to review video recorded homilies weekly.

An annual “Festival of the Word” event each January will invite clergy assigned to parish ministry as well as seminarians and other interested persons to showcase compelling preaching.

Public events in the “Word on the Streets” initiative will target neighborhoods or deaneries with preaching on social concerns or church topics, intending to speak to new and diverse audiences.

“The Word at Hand” will offer a web portal for all homiletics resources offered to anyone interested in compelling preaching.

More information about the Catholic Preaching Institute, including opportunities for people to engage with the various activities, will be posted as it becomes available on St. Charles Seminary’s website,



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