by Bob Hart
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — More than 30 archdiocesan priests are heading back to school a little late this fall, but their occasional absence from their parishes promises to pay dividends to their congregations in the long run.
At the two-year-long “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program, say organizers, priests will learn to manage the time spent on administrative duties more wisely, so as to leave more time for the pastoral work that attracted them to the priesthood in the first place.
“The goal is to have healthier, happier, more energized priests,” said Father John Riley, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in St. Marys and chairman of continuing education and formation for priests. “We want to be up to the task of leading vibrant parishes and communities.”
The program, created by the Catholic Leadership Institute in Exton, Pa., has had great success in other dioceses around the country and came to the attention of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who asked Father Riley to explore it further. Following a successful screening, the program was recommended to the Presbyteral Council and eventually to all the priests of the archdiocese.
“It’s a leadership program for priests — specifically for priests, not just some off-the-shelf executive training program,” said Father Riley. “It’s designed specifically for us to help us face some of the challenges we have today, with fewer priests, more administrative duties and more and more complex decisions.”
The program consists of six modules:
•Self-Preparation for Leadership
•Leading in the Self Context
•Leading in the One-to-One Context
•Leading in the Team Context
•Leading in the Organization Context
•Leading Strategic Relationships between Organizations
Each training module includes time for prayer, liturgy and fraternity. Some of the sessions are half-days, but others require overnight stays at Savior Pastoral Center.
“There will be some sacrifice on the part of the parishes,” Father Riley said. “There are at least six overnight sessions, and they’re absolutely required. No one can leave. That is, in and of itself, a challenge.
“If someone were to die in a parish, for instance, of course the priest would want to be with the family, helping them grieve. We’re going to have to call upon our fellow priests to help out in those situations. And we’ll be asking people to understand that Father cannot be there every minute.”
Priests’ participation is voluntary, and the cost of the program is split three ways. The priest himself pays 20 percent, his parish pays 20 percent, and the continuing education program for the archdiocese pays the remaining 60 percent.
Among the many bishops who have offered their endorsement of the program are: Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit; Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia; Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., archbishop of Boston; and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston.
More than 25 dioceses nationwide have completed or signed up for the program, including the neighboring dioceses of Dodge City and Salina in Kansas.