My Story: The Priest Who Earned An MBA

Father Pete at his graduation from the Mendoza EMBA program

Father Pete at his graduation from the Mendoza EMBA program

Executive MBA programs draw professionals from many backgrounds. In any class, you’ll find lawyers, doctors, and engineers pairing up with marketing managers and accountants. And that’s no surprise. Every trade or institution is, at its heart, a business.

A good example is the Roman Catholic Church. Numbering 1.25 billion followers, the church is more than a community of faith with a message of salvation. It is also a flourishing organization with a 2,000 year track record. Like any business, it includes hierarchies and assets, with operations that range from education to missionary work. To maximize return and provide the best service to its members, church leaders must be well-versed in business fundamentals from finance to strategy.

A NORMAL GUY WHO HAPPENS TO BE A PRIEST

That’s one reason why you’d find Father Pete McCormick in EMBA classes at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. A member of Poets&Quants’ ‘Best-and-Brightest’ EMBAs for the Class of 2015, Father Pete, as he’s called, serves as the university’s director of campus ministry. And he enrolled at Mendoza with a clear mission. “As priests,” he tells Poets&Quants, “we’re asked to be thoughtful and good stewards of the resources that we’ve been given – and ultimately to communicate the message of the gospel. I want to do that as effectively as possible.”

Without the collar, few would guess Father Pete’s true vocation. With an easy laugh and reassuring manner, Father Pete could easily be pictured as the all-city basketball player who captained his high school team. And basketball remains a passion for him. He currently serves as the chaplain for Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team. In fact, he still steps onto the court occasionally, where he’s known for a deadly jump shot (and an occasional elbow in the paint). And would you believe that he still rocks the mike as a disk jockey who goes by the moniker, “DJ McSwish?”

Father Pete as his alter ego, DJ McSwish

Father Pete as his alter ego, DJ McSwish

“From my perspective, I’m a pretty normal guy,” Father Pete admits. “I’m a guy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who is trying as best as he can to respond to this priestly vocation. I bring my full self into it. I love country music. I love basketball. I love water skiing. I love hanging out with friends. And I love being a priest!”

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he loved business school, too. But it wasn’t an easy transition. Like his peers, he sometimes struggled to balance work and school. What’s more, as a priest, Father Pete was accustomed to others coming to him for advice. As a student – with limited business experience – the roles were reversed, as he sometimes relied on his peers for help. “There were times when I genuinely felt as if I was in a bit over my head. But this is what I learned…I could not be the person I am without my teammates and my classmates. Period. And anyone who has an executive MBA and says, ‘Yeah, I did all by myself” – they are lying. I relied wholly and entirely upon my teammates. We worked together and we accomplished a lot.”

So how did Father Pete go from being a hoopster to a priest to an MBA? Here is his story in his own words.

My Story

I grew up as the oldest of six and went to Catholic grade school and high school. Ultimately, I went off to Grand Valley State University. Growing up, my mom was a nurse and my dad owned his own store. He later went back to school in his mid-forties… He had already earned a degree in business and then went back to become a heating and cooling engineer (which is what he is doing today). It [implanted] in me that school doesn’t end when you’re 22 or 24. And that’s always been something in the back of my mind and played out later as I thought about going back for the executive MBA.

Growing up, my family really worked hard to instill values in us. We had a good childhood. I grew up playing a lot of basketball. We had a hoop right in our backward. I was also a big water skier. My family has a cottage in Baldwin, Michigan, and we would go up there with some frequency – and those were some of my best memories, certainly.

I think being a player on the basketball team [really shaped me]. Over my career, I had the opportunity in both my junior and senior year to be the captain of the team. At the same time, at the back end of my senior year, I wasn’t playing particularly well. As a result, I didn’t get all that much playing time. That has always impacted me because you realize there are other ways to lead beyond being just the star. That’s formed me in a certain way, of being an individual who recognizes the benefits of hard work. So when I look back on my time as a basketball player, I showed up for practice every day and worked hard. But that didn’t necessarily mean I was going to get the minutes that one would hope for in his high school career. But the team recognized my role by naming me captain. And I had to continue to be faithful to that responsibility. To this day, we talk a lot about servant leadership. And servant leadership doesn’t always mean you’re going to get all the glory and praise. Yet, you have to be willing to do the work and put forth the effort.

Father Pete, chaplain of the Notre Dame men's basketball team, holding the ACC trophy

Father Pete, chaplain of the Notre Dame men’s basketball team, holding the ACC trophy

My family sacrificed a lot. My mom and dad were very talented individuals. Despite having six kids, they made a decision that they were going to pay private school tuition and send us to Catholic schools because they saw the benefit of that experience. That said, we weren’t driving the fanciest cars or living in a [pricey] neighborhood. But there was always a meal on the table. My parents taught me the benefit of sacrifice. For goals that are more enduring, you have to be willing to put in the time. I can remember how much my parents joyfully did that. They were always at our games…They kept saying to us, ‘There are things that are more important than material possessions.’ And education was certainly one of them.

[After graduating high school in 1995], I spent two years in junior college at Grand Rapids Community College. Then I transferred over to Grand Valley State where I majored in biology. The experience, for me, was wonderful – great professors! I commuted back-and-forth from home, so I was able to save money there. During that time, I began to think about two different tracks for my life. One was being a science teacher and the other was being a doctor. I had a very influential teacher – Mr. Mike Mulder at West Catholic High School – who made a big impact on me. He was my anatomy teacher. And the way he was able to make things come alive and how he explained the world around us just fascinated me. And [his example] really motivated me to pursue [science].

My time at Grand Valley State was pretty straightforward. I officiated basketball – I still had a great love for the game. So I continued to be part of it by officiating grade school, freshman, JV, and a few varsity basketball games. I had a great experience going around gyms in the west Michigan area calling games.

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