Diocesan priests get pastoral tips during leadership training series

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — As newly-named pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford, Father Daniel W. Lacroix has already picked up some useful tips from the first two sessions of the “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” training program he’s been attending with several of his brother priests at the La Salette Retreat Center in Attleboro.

“Time management and the recruitment of parishioners to fill key areas is becoming more challenging, so I have been seeking better ways of identifying the gifts of the laity and at what tasks they could be more (involved),” Father Lacroix recently told The Anchor. “The first module on identifying your ‘hard wired’ personality disposition and how that impacts your leadership style and ministry within the parish has been helpful.”

Having just completed the second of four planned sessions, Father Lacroix said the timing is perfect, given that he’s just taken on a new assignment in New Bedford.

“I’m always open to learn new ways of doing daily things in a better and more productive way,” he said.

“Good Shepherds, Good Leaders” currently has 19 diocesan and two religious order priests enrolled, most of whom opted to attend after hearing about the program from Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.

“Bishop da Cunha first presented it to the presbyteral council and then to the priests assembled at one of our study days,” Father Lacroix said.

“I first became aware of the program at a workshop for priests at Stonehill College,” said Father Michael R. Nagle, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish on Martha’s Vineyard. “It was offered to anyone who wanted to sign up, so I asked a few of the priests who had been and they highly recommended it, so I signed up and was accepted into the program.”

“When Bishop da Cunha mentioned it to the priests at a gathering last fall at Stonehill College, I remembered my friends from the seminary having mentioned the program a few years back,” added Father Christopher Peschel, parochial administrator of St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Attleboro. “When the bishop stressed his desire for especially the younger members of the presbyterate to take advantage of the opportunity, I signed up.”

A product of the Catholic Leadership Institute based in Wayne, Pa., “Good Shepherds, Good Leaders” is designed to help priests overcome today’s challenges of a diminishing number of clergy and meet the more complex demands for priestly ministry. Its mission is to help priests minimize the frustration and energy they would otherwise spend on administrative roles and, instead, focus on the joy and time spent on the pastoral duties for which they were ordained.

“For the very reason that demands and expectations on priests are high, this training has the potential to reduce some of the chaos that may result by helping the priest to discern what is essential and important and what isn’t,” said Father Edward J. Healey, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Mashpee.

According to the Catholic Leadership Institute website, its mission is: “To help strengthen priestly identity, ministry, and fraternity. We believe this happens best when priests take time for themselves — in the company of one another — to learn, pray, socialize, and look to the future with hope.”

“The fraternity among those participating has been great, and a very practical application of how to relate well with others,” Father Healey said.

“The sessions have brought about a sense of fraternity for sure,” Father Peschel agreed. “I think there’s a sense of unity that comes out of these programs and when our priests are united, then the presbyterate as a whole is a lot stronger.”

According to Barbara Eckert, a leadership consultant with CLI who was a presenter at the most recent Good Shepherds, Good Leaders session, the program is designed to be a training course, not a lecture series.

“It succeeds best when there is a dialogue between trainers and participants, and among participants, continually turning over ideas and possibilities,” Eckert said. “A participant cannot just read the binders and come away with a depth of learning. The benefit is exponential when there is a dynamic of shared challenge, insight, and commitment.”

As such, Good Shepherds, Good Leaders is more akin to a retreat, where participants are required to interact with presenters and one another. Just as pastors need parishioners to support pastoral work and evangelization, it is necessary for them to be actively involved in the learning experience.

“At its best, the way Catholic Leadership Institute leads is a model of how to lead others in the parish to learn, grow and eventually lead others,” Eckert said. “Parishes benefit when a pastor has a positive experience of a learning community that prays, learns, and works with new ideas together — leading to a stronger vision of what a parish can be as it leads people to Jesus Christ.

“As Pope Francis has written: ‘It would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients’” (Joy of the Gospel, No. 120).

Father Riley J. Williams, who just began his tenure as parochial administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, said the training sessions have been a blessing.

“What has been particularly helpful for me, especially having recently begun a new assignment, is learning about the different types of personalities — in particular, about what to be aware of in interactions with each person, and how to call forth the best from each,” he said. “This past session helped to develop that, and I look forward to learning more about how they interact in future sessions.”

For Father Healey, the first two modules have focused on his “being more self-aware as a person, a priest and as a leader of the community of faith.”

“There is instruction on how to use this knowledge to work with others who may have rather different dispositions than you,” he said. “It isn’t that any of this is news, but it’s the very thoughtful and organized approach that is recommended by the program that is so helpful, and I look forward to more of the same in future modules.”

Likewise, Father Nagle said the first two sessions have helped him “to get to know myself better and have a better understanding of where other people are coming from so that our differences can be used to enhance our ability to work together.”

“It has also helped me to see how I can better manage my own time and set realistic goals and tasks to achieve these goals,” he said. “It has helped me to be better organized and not get in my own way as much.”

“There’s a big difference between being busy and being efficient, and I think that it can be easy to fool ourselves that we are in the latter category by being the former,” said Father Williams. “These training seminars have taught me some great skills to use my time most effectively so that I can attend to the many needs of my parish while giving appropriate time to each need.”

“Jesus had a compelling vision for Himself and others,” Eckert said. “He did not do all things for all people as He followed a path to Jerusalem. Yet, we can see Him leading in many ways — teaching, leading prayer, calling and focusing others to become leaders in His name. He deeply cared for others and took care of Himself along the way. The Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program takes a similar path.”

Eckert, who has been with the CLI for the past 10 years, led a presentation on “Leadership in the Self Context” during the most recent session.

“It focuses on the role of the pastor and breaks it into components best understood through questions,” she said. “What is my vision of the role in this place and time in my ministry? What guiding values do I want to lead by? What do I need to accomplish in my three offices of ordination — teach, sanctify and govern — as well as in the areas of pastoral care and personal wellness? What goals can I set for myself? What do I need to successfully accomplish my goals as pastor? Where will I find what I need to keep me on track and able to move through the inevitable challenging phases leading to mastery of one’s goals?”

Future sessions of Good Leaders, Good Shepherds will focus on how pastors can lead one-to-one, how they can build team and parish relationships, and how they can collaborate with other parishes or organizations, she said.

Father Lacroix said he hopes it will teach him to avoid the potential “burn out” that sometimes afflicts pastors today.

“I hope to become more proficient with the time allotments I have and prioritize or triage the key demands of the day without it becoming unmanageable,” he said.

“There are less priests and more work to do,” Father Nagle said. “To me, it will be a very effective tool to have on your tool belt. It is an investment in yourself, your ministry, your sanity, and that of your parishioners.”

“I’m 29 years old, so hopefully I’ve got a few decades of ministry left in me,” Father Peschel said. “If taking a couple of weeks now can benefit a lifetime of ministry, then it’s a wise investment of time, (especially) if you’re looking to strengthen your priestly ministry and prioritize a seemingly increasing amount of work and demands placed on parish priests these days.”

“This is the course that was needed, but was missing in the seminary,” Father Healey said. “I highly recommend it to all, and the sooner in one’s priesthood, the better!”

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