National Catholic Register


Helping Priests Become More Effective Pastors


July 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 7/10/07 at 3:56 PM


Father Matthew Williams knows that his natural inclination is to constantly respond to people’s needs. Sometimes, he stays longer in conversation than the needs demand while an equally important appointment remains on hold.

But through a new program designed to help priests become better leaders, Father Williams, of St. Mary Parish in Dedham, Mass., understands his behavior and knows when it’s necessary to move on.

The program, “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,” comes from the Catholic Leadership Institute, based in Exton, Pa. The organization’s stated purpose is to teach Catholics “the finest leadership skills and tools to help them reach their God-given potential as Catholic leaders and Christian witnesses in the family, workplace, community and Church.”

Using expertise from people in the business world, the program is helping 200 priests develop leadership skills so they can be more effective pastors, given the multiplying duties and tasks they’re responsible for today.

The program is also set to become part of one seminary’s regular training.

Father Williams says it has helped him look at time management better “so I can more effectively meet my responsibilities.”

The Good Leaders, Good Shepherds training fills in some very necessary gaps that even the best seminaries do not have time to cover, says Father Roger Landry, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, Mass., and a participant.

“It helps priests to recognize the strengths and remedy the weaknesses of their personality so that they might be more effective instruments in leading others to Christ,” said Father Landry, who is also editor of The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River. “It provides us skills to see and respond to the needs of parishioners and parish staff or council members so that we can bring out the best in them individually and collectively. It also gives us the techniques we need to do the various administrative tasks associated with the priesthood more competently and quickly, freeing up precious time for the more important aspects of the priesthood.”

The leadership program is still in its initial two-year session. Catholic Leadership Institute developed it when they made contact through Legatus, the organization for Catholic CEOs, with leadership experts.

“Some of the top leadership development minds in the world chose to get involved with this,” explains Matt Manion, president and CEO of Catholic Leadership Institute, “because they value the priesthood and saw the difference they could make in the world by supporting our priests through this leadership formation.”

What resulted was a tailor-made program that Father Bill Dickinson, the institute’s national director of leadership development, describes as pastorally based and developed specifically for Catholic priests.

Eight dioceses from Boston to Denver, where “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” started at the invitation of Archbishop Charles Chaput, are participating in the initial program that revolves primarily around 23 well-spaced training days. Priestly numbers will double this summer. By the end of fall, participating dioceses will also double.

According to Father Michael Glenn, rector of Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary, the leadership program will be part of seminarians’ study beginning this fall.

“We’ve been looking and praying to find a leadership model to give our guys training,” he says. Unlike years ago when a young priest had significant time to mentor and train under a pastor, now many are becoming pastors sooner and sooner. Hence, the need for a leadership mentoring and training program right away before they go out into the parishes.

One rationale for the course?

Says Father Dickinson, “We say their holy orders have called them to provide ‘holy ordering’ to the Church.”

That ‘holy ordering’ comes with learning leadership for everything from handling meetings to pastoral planning for short- and long-term, small- and large-level, ministerial life in the parish.

Manion, who believes the program is one of the many ways the Holy Spirit is working in the Church today, says that soon after one pastor of an inner-city Philadelphia parish employed the training on envisioning and setting parish priorities with his parish council, the church had perpetual adoration and its school had a waiting list.

Another practical result he observed on a smaller scale involved a pastor and his maintenance man. Because of what he learned, the pastor was able to tie the man’s passionate Catholic faith into seeing that keeping the church clean communicates it is the house of God and shows reverence for it.

Seeing Christ in Others

Manion says one of the leadership behavioral tools is called “DISC: Did I See Christ in Others,” where participants are trained to consider, “Is my ability to see and love Christ hindered by their behavioral style?”

“The tool helps them understand their behavioral preferences and other peoples’ behavioral preferences,” Manion says. Some prefer to talk, some to listen; it’s behavior, not the person, that might irritate us.

Msgr. Michael Bugarin, former secretary to Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida and now pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores, Mich., finds the DISC model has significant impact in one-on-one parish and ministry settings.

“Whether it’s dealing with parishioners or staff members, it’s caused me to step back and think where this person is coming from, their personality traits, and how best I can communicate with them,” he says.

Msgr. Bugarin realizes while he’s a cut-to-the-chase person because he has a batch of tasks waiting, the other person might prefer to discuss something leisurely over coffee or lunch. He finds it helps in issues dealing with confrontation too.

It also works for counseling parishioners. Father Landry has been amazed at how what he has learned in the program has had immediate benefits as he helps couples overcome issues in their engagements or their marriages.

Many of their problems deal with communication and come from not knowing how to respond to each other’s different temperament or set of priorities.

“The intensive training on personality dispositions and values hierarchies in the ‘Good Shepherds, Good Leaders’ program has helped me diagnose the source of their difficulties very quickly and give them very practical advice about how to communicate with each other much more effectively,” says Father Landry. “Many of them have told me these suggestions have made a big difference. It has also made them far more receptive to giving my words greater weight if I need to challenge them to live up to certain more demanding parts of the Gospel.”

Learning the leadership skills to cut daily tasks more easily, quickly, and successfully leaves a priest with more time and energy to focus on leadership in the really important things.

As Father Landry puts it, “The specific skills I’ve learned in leading various types of people in different pastoral contexts have also made me a more effective instrument in presenting the splendor of the faith in terms others can more readily understand and in guiding them with concrete steps toward holiness.”

That sums up the main goal of “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds.”

“In the end it’s all about the Kingdom of God,” says Father Dickinson. “Priests want their parishes to be very much reflective of Christ.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen

writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.