‘7 Steps’ program applies catechism to finances

Debt is a four-letter word that Americans need to purge from their vocabulary, and their lives.

One program that can help Catholics do that is 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free, which is offered by Phil Lenahan in partnership with Veritas Financial Ministries and Our Sunday Visitor.

Lenahan, who lives in Temecula, Calif., wanted to put his financial background to use to help others, so he started volunteering as a budget counselor at his parish, according to his Web site. He said he witnessed many times the financial strain of families struggling to manage their money.

Inspired by a personal study of how sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church address money issues, Lenahan and his partners developed 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free, which includes Lenahan’s book of the same title.

Pilot programs began in January 2007, and several of those were initiated in the Diocese of Charleston. One that is still up and running is sponsored by St. Peter Church in Columbia.

Deacon Ron Anderson, course facilitator, said they started a new session Feb. 3. It runs for seven weeks and contains no more than 12 people at a time.

The 7 Steps program is similar to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in that it invokes the Scriptures, but unlike that program it also ties in the catechism. Deacon Anderson said 7 Steps appealed to his parish because it was written for Catholics by a Catholic.

“If people want to grow in their faith and learn how to control their finances using Catholic principles, this is the course to follow,” he said.

Kathy Schmugge, diocesan family life coordinator, invited Lenahan to speak at a diocesan training session in March 2007. He also was the guest speaker at a family life conference in Columbia.

Schmugge said the financial crisis had not happened at that point, but the writing was on the wall, and she wanted to institute a program to help parishioners.

As she was researching programs, choosing Lenahan became one of those “God moments,” she said, when she discovered two other parish leaders were also looking into the financial expert, independently of one another.

“I like the approach of Phil Lenahan, with the concept that not just 10 percent is God’s, but all of it is God’s,” Schmugge said.

Two churches that offered the program in 2007 after a training session with Lenahan were St. John Neumann and Our Lady of the Hills, both in Columbia. Spokespeople for the churches said they have only hosted it once so far, but would like to sponsor it again in the future.

Cherie Smith, director of religious education at St. John Neumann, praised the program for being stewardship oriented, which is a major aspect of Catholic spirituality. She cautioned that it is not an easy course. Participants receive a workbook, and they have homework they must complete.

“It’s one of those things everyone should do but nobody wants to do because it means going on a budget,”  Smith said. “Programs like this are necessary components of a full parish life,” she added. “Everything we do should remind us of who we are: children of God.”

Sister Christina Murphy, pastoral associate at Our Lady of the Hills, said she took the course herself before teaching it at the church. One of the class assignments is to keep receipts for every purchase and add them up at the end of the week. Sister Christina said she was surprised at how frivolous spending, such as a daily cup of coffee, added up.

“I’ve cut down on that tremendously,” she said.

Parishioners seemed to enjoy the classes, said Sister Christina, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. One lady who followed the program said it created a financial cushion to support her when she lost her job.

Our Lady hopes to offer 7 Steps again at the end of the summer, Sister Christina said.

Aside from financial security, Schmugge said one of the main reasons she was interested in the program is because of the relation between financial difficulties and divorce. She said she would like to make 7 Steps a marriage prep course.   

Deacon Anderson said he and his wife took the class together and it led to some interesting discussions about money. He said it can help ease the stress of marriage whether a couple is just starting out or moving into retirement.

For more information on 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free, visit www.veritasfinancialministries.com.