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Program helps priests be ‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’

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August 10, 2011

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — Amid the challenges of a diminishing number of clergy and the complexities of priestly ministry today, the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program is helping priests to strengthen their leadership skills and day-to-day ministry as they lead members of their parish communities to a deeper relationship with Christ.


Father Tom DiFolco receives his certificate from Father Bill Dickinson, the national director of leadership development at the Catholic Leadership Institute. (Courtesy photo)

In late May, 30 priests from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati graduated from the program’s first session conducted locally. Offered by the Catholic Leadership Institute (www.catholicleaders.org), based in Pennsylvania, Good Leaders, Good Shepherds met for 29 days over the course of nearly two years. Participants in the residential training met either at the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein or the Bergamo Center for three days and two nights, covering six modules.


The training, which allows plenty of time for prayer, liturgy and building priestly fraternity, begins with the opportunity for participants to discover their own leadership skills and identify their strengths. Other modules deal with such topics as creating a vision for the priests’ ministerial role and identifying key areas of responsibility to bring focus and clarity to their ministry; learning to give effective feedback to staff members and volunteers, helping them follow action plans and solve their own problems; reviewing their committees and councils and learning to create high impact teams that get things accomplished for their parish or organization; creating a vision for that parish or organization and determining key ministry goals to achieve it; and learning the value of strategic relationships to help fulfill pastoral leadership with others.


Father Tom DiFolco, director of the archdiocesan Priestly Formation Office, is one of the recent graduates and said, “More than any other developmental process for priestly ministry that I am familiar with, Good Leaders, Good Shepherds gives priests enough time to develop some of the skills for leading in the church in the United States today. It’s not just cognitive learning —learning about; it’s also skill development — learning how to. And when you consider the many tasks that priests must perform as pastors today, how-to’s can be very important. At the same time, this process always keeps us at the forefront of our mission as servants of the Lord.”


In a letter to area priests encouraging them to participate in the next session of Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,  Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, noted that he has heard “time and time again” from the May graduates that “they are feeling more confident and competent in both their priesthood and their pastoring.”


“Pastoring the people of God is one of our primary responsibilities, and I believe the unique and integrated priestly leadership curriculum you will experience will benefit your ministry greatly,” the archbishop added. “Speaking candidly, I need you and your leadership. The people of God deserve your strengthened ministry as well. I am particularly encouraging priests who are early in their pastorates or who might be anticipating moving to their first pastorate in the next few years to consider enrolling.”


Father Ron Haft, pastor of St. Peter in Chains Parish in Hamilton since 2010, said Good Leaders, Good Shepherds was an opportunity for him as a new pastor to “develop skills that I can use with the parish staff and key volunteers so that my time can be more free to be with the people of God.”
He also spoke of the “collective wisdom” of the participants and the reassurance of knowing that they can call on each other for advice and support.


Graduates from the first session of Good Leaders, Good Shepherds held locally pose for a photo with instructors from the program. (Courtesy photo)

Father Ron Combs, associate pastor of St. Henry Parish in Dayton, said the program helped him become more aware of his strengths and weaknesses in terms of interacting with and leading others, along with the importance of identifying needs and establishing priorities at the parish level with input and help from a core group of parishioners and setting personal, spiritual and ministerial goals, all of which he feels will benefit him when he is appointed as a pastor.


The next session of Good Leaders, Good Shepherds is scheduled to begin Oct. 4, Father DiFolco said. In addition, a complementary program for parish staff members — Tending the Talents — is planned.


“It’s particularly for those in parishes where the pastors have gone through the program and will offer a more unified way of leadership,” he explained.

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