Commanding attention

All eyes, ears were on former member of Swiss Guard during Gatlinburg Study Days for diocesan priests

By Jim Wogan

Dr. Mario Enzler’s voice exploded across the hotel meeting room in Gatlinburg in undulating waves, like mini-sonic booms. He may have been addressing ordained priests from the Diocese of Knoxville, men who are used to being in charge, but for the next three days the room belonged to Dr. Enzler, and he never needed a microphone.

Mario Enzler stands at attention for Pope John Paul II decades ago when Mr. Enzler was then a member of the elite Swiss Guard that serves at the Vatican. Dr. Enzler now teaches business.

Dr. Enzler is a former member of the Vatican’s elite Swiss Guard, a military guy with Italian and Swiss heritage who gave up the gala uniform years ago for a career in international banking. He is the current dean of the Cameron School of Business at St. Thomas (Catholic) University in Houston, and he led a presentation on parish management practices for more than 60 priests and Bishop Richard F. Stika Feb. 7-9.

Dr. Enzler created the Management as Ministry workshop, a spinoff of the master’s degree program he developed for St. Thomas, to educate priests on the complexities of managing the operations of a parish by giving them knowledge and skills he feels priests are not getting while in seminary.

Improving the business acumen of clergy is something Dr. Enzler feels is vital for the future of the Church.

“The main cause of leaving the priesthood within the first 10 years is a lack of knowledge in three fields: human resources, leadership, and administration. This is what I focus on,” he said.

Dr. Enzler energized this year’s Gatlinburg Study Days for diocesan priests by offering five different 90-minute sessions on general business practices, accounting and oversight, crisis management, personal finances, and human resources. He was joined by colleagues William Kirst and Robert Powers, both professors at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

“I have been working alongside bishops for the past 20 years and (I’ve learned) throughout their seminary formation that these men do not receive an introduction to any kind of business or management or administrative skills,” Dr. Enzler said. “Then when they become a priest, especially in the United States, they get parachuted into a place where they become the de facto CEO of a small enterprise. I said we have got to do something for these people.”

Dr. Enzler possesses a level of credibility built on experience, his faith and knowledge of the Church, and his witness to the Vatican’s innerworkings at the highest level. He was a member of the Swiss Guard during the papacy of Pope St. John Paul II, with whom he had frequent contact.

“I was really attracted by his oratorical skills, by his posture, and his gestures. He was truly an actor, and I was always intrigued because he knows how to communicate, sometimes even with no words,” Dr. Enzler said about Pope St. John Paul II. “Just looking at somebody, just a gesture, and it became clear to me that whatever he had, I wanted.”

In addition to protecting the Holy Father and meeting Catholic and civic dignitaries, he worked with and got to know Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Kolkata, during his time at the Vatican.

“Spending time with the Missionaries of Charity and spending time with Mother Teresa, that is what turned me around because I thought that this woman is 4 feet tall and look at what she is doing.” Dr. Enzler said.

Bishop Richard F. Stika is shown with Dr. Mario Enzler, left, and Professor William Kirst during the Gatlinburg Study Days for Diocese of Knoxville priests. Dr. Enzler and Professor Kirst gave presentations on parish management practices.

Following his military service, Dr. Enzler chose a career in finance and worked for 19 years in the global banking industry and wealth management. He later taught at the Catholic University of America and became dean of the Cameron School of Business at St. Thomas in 2020.

“We don’t do this for a living; we are all professors, and we all have our responsibilities, but we do this as a fulfillment of our baptismal commitments,” Dr. Enzler said.

Interest in his workshop programs is growing. He now has a multi-day program for bishops and has one for religious communities.

“I had 50 nuns coming for four days in the U.S., mainly they were the treasurer or the mother generals, but they were there,” he said.

Each year priests from the diocese gather in Gatlinburg during one of the tourist town’s slowest and coldest months, February. The focal point of the Study Days is just that—study. Sometimes the focus is on spiritual matters, other times it is practical. Mass is celebrated daily at nearby St. Mary Church in Gatlinburg along with morning and evening prayer.

“This was absolutely one of our best study days,” Bishop Stika said. “Dr. Enzler and his colleagues provided very useful and much-needed information for our priests, especially our pastors.”

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