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The Ministry Institute's director reflects on economy and the power of nonprofits

Nate GreeneDespite the fluctuating economy, Nate Greene is optimistic that The Ministry Institute can grow and continue to carry out its mission of faith education, spiritual renewal and ministry leadership.

To support this growth, it plans to expand the residential buildings the institute owns on the block surrounding its main building at 405 E. Sinto near Gonzaga University’s campus.

Implementation of these plans will provide sufficient revenue to cover overhead costs and expand the number of scholarships available to the institute’s program students, he said.

As executive director since 2009, the former Ford auto dealer and Eastern Washington University economics professor believes “we have to find a way to jump start the economy.”

He considers stabilizing the housing market as “key to the much needed recovery.”

Nate said that declining home prices depress consumer spending, which in turn causes high unemployment and other economic ills.

He also said that the planned improvements to The Ministry Institute’s residential buildings “are important to the financial health of the organization, because the weak economy has caused a significant drop in the organization’s donations.”

The Ministry Institute evolved from the Mater Dei Seminary, which was founded in 1981 by Father Armand Nigro, SJ, and two other Jesuit priests as a seminary for second-career men.

In 1994, the seminary became The Ministry Institute at Mater Dei and began programs for lay, ordained and vowed Catholics and non-Catholics in Gonzaga’s religious studies program. 

In addition, the former CREDO and FOCUS programs, which brought priests and nuns from around the world for sabbatical studies, became part of The Ministry Institute’s program.

The Ministry Institute has 12 to 20 students—mostly priests and nuns who come to strengthen their ministries through the academic, sabbatical and language programs available at the institute and Gonzaga University.

“These individuals come to increase their language skills, discern directions in their ministries, develop skills for their appointed assignments and learn how to be better servant leaders,” Nate said.  “The institute provides individually tailored programs for our students—especially the international students— that include participation in the university and local faith communities.”

As part of its outreach to the community, the institute’s Saturday “Skills for Service” workshops are open to the public, he said.

“These workshops cover religious and self-reflection topics that are relevant in today’s world,” he pointed out.

Another event open to the community is the Tuesday afternoon Taize Prayer, a form of prayer rooted in song, silence and readings, often from Scripture.

The workshops and services are opportunities for people in Spokane and surrounding communities to meet and engage in dialogue on ethics, spirituality and self-improvement with program students from around the world.

“We make efforts to involve the priests and nuns here in local parishes and retirement communities, where we encourage them to share their life journeys and experiences on being religious in developing countries,” said Nate, who attends several Catholic parishes.

He often finds their faith is deeper than many Americans’ faith, because in their homelands there are fewer Catholics and they live in areas of great need.

“To them, faith is their life.  They live and die every day in faith,” he said.  “Hearing of children dying of malnutrition in their homelands, I realize how much we as Americans take for granted.”

“Although I grew up poor, I did not think of myself as poor,” Nate said. 

He gained an understanding of poverty when he lived two years in the Air Force in Turkey.  There was no running water, electricity, phone or television.”

Before he started at the Ministry Institute, Nate said he went to church and thought that was all there was to faith.

“Now I realize that we as a western country can help people in developing countries, not by telling them how to do what they need to do, but by sharing our expertise in engineering, health care or education to support their efforts to make their lives better,” Nate said.

His life exemplifies his economic theory about working hard to make life better.

“Athough my family had little money, we were expected to be educated and have a good life. Work was ingrained in us as children.  The Catholic schools expected us to excel, to be somebody,” he said.

Although his family attended African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches, Nate’s parents sent his sister and him to a Catholic school in Charleston, S.C., for a quality education.  He converted to Catholicism during his undergraduate studies in economics at Talladega College in Talladega, Ala.  After graduating in 1965, he was drafted.

He had met his wife, Roberta, growing up in Charleston.  She attended one of the four
AME churches there.

After four years in the Air Force, overseas and in San Antonio, Nate earned a master’s degree in economics in 1972, while Roberta completed a degree in urban studies at Trinity University.

Learning Ford Motor Co. was recruiting people who had master’s degrees and had served in the military, he signed up and worked in sales and marketing for seven years in Buffalo, N.Y. 

Next he owned an airport rental car business in Charlotte, N.C., which he sold to buy Center Ford in 1986 in Spokane.   For 22 years, he operated it as Empire Ford until selling the dealership back to Ford and closing it in 2007, when Nate began teaching some economics courses at EWU.  He still teaches some evening courses.

As he comes to know international students, he added that he becomes more personally aware of global interconnections economically, and the needs and importance of faith worldwide in addressing economic and social issues that have impact on people’s lives.

For information, call 313-5765 or email