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New program will help pastors be ‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

By David Eck

ARCHDIOCESE — Helping pastors become better leaders in an era of declining resources and fewer priests is the goal of a new program being offered to priests in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

An aspect of the 18-month “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” course is helping priests identify their individual leadership strengths and apply them in various areas of the parish, including one-on-one situations, working with teams and staff members, and as the overall parish leader.

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Several dozen priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati attended recent orientation sessions for the program. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

The program, offered by the Pennsylvania-based Catholic Leadership Institute, meets for 29 days over the course of 18 months. It is structured to allow priests to study leadership issues in depth.

Several dozen area priests recently attended orientation sessions to learn more details of the program.

“For priests to lead into the future in our [parishes] and in our church we just need to take some skilled time in leadership,” said Father Thomas DiFolco, director of the archdiocesan priestly formation office and pastor of St. Agnes and St. Martin de Porres parish in Cincinnati. “It’s an investment in developing leadership skills.”

The training begins with a four-day residency that helps the priest understand his leadership behavior.

Other residencies focus on creating a vision for the priest’s ministerial role, defining key responsibility areas and leadership in different contexts. A final residency covers strategic relationships between organizations.

“Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” brings a variety of experienced presenters from around the country” to different sessions, Father DiFolco said. “One of the things about the program is it also gives [the priest] the opportunity to bring things home to the parish or whatever assignment he has.”

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Father Bill Dickinson, the national director of leadership development at the Catholic Leadership Institute, speaks to local priests about the “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

More than 30 dioceses across the country have offered the course and more are investigating it, he added.

While some of the concepts covered come from the business world, the program has been tailored them to apply to parish and church settings.

“It looks at and builds on priest identity,” Father DiFolco said. “It takes into account priestly ministry and the unique situation that we work in. It also builds in priest fraternity.”

Father DiFolco is among the priests who will take the class.

“What those who have been through it have said is it really helps them to organize their own thinking and organize their own planning,” he said. “I hope it’s going to help me think things through, what’s important to me as a pastor, and help organize my work in the parishes accordingly.”

The program will also assist parochial vicars who are becoming pastors much more quickly because of the priest shortage. In the past, priests had years of on-the-job training before taking over a parish.

Father Anthony Cutcher, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in St. Marys, said the training will help prepare him for the day when he will be pastor of multiple parishes.

“The way that the program was explained to us, it’s actually more about leadership than it is about management,” Father Cutcher said. “You lead people and empower them so that the pastor’s job becomes less ‘pastorcentric.’ It frees me up to do less hands-on administration and more hands-on ministry.”

Father Cutcher is also looking forward to the fraternity the residencies will provide. While he knows the priests he was in the seminary with, he doesn’t know the other priests in the archdiocese as well. The geography of the archdiocese hinders fraternity, particularly for priests in the rural areas.

“The guys in the city, they can arrange to have dinner with each other,” Father Cutcher said. “It takes an effort on our part when you’re the only guy in town.”

David Eck can be reached at deck@catholiccincinnati.org.

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