Training Seminarians for Pastoral Leadership

Even in the post-Vatican II era of collaborative ministry, bishops only entrust parishes to ordained pastors.  Such pastors rely on professional staffs and competent volunteers, as well as on pastoral and finance council members.  But none of them have more than what Canon Law calls a "consultative vote."  The buck stops with the pastor.  He alone can make legal decisions on behalf of the parish, and the good pastor must be a prudent leader as well as a good shepherd.

All the more reason for effective leadership training at the seminary level.  The official documents of the Church prefer to speak of the pastor as a "good shepherd" rather than as a leader, but even they describe the priest as a "leader."  The U.S. Bishops' document entitled "The Program of Priestly Formation" specifies the seminary curriculum.  It is a thorough and thought-provoking document, and it speaks about training the seminarian to be a priest-leader.  The PPF does not, however, require a course in parish administration and leadership skills (as it requires courses in, for example, Holy Orders and ecumenism).  It expects the seminarian to learn about leadership in a variety of indirect ways, such as apprenticeship under a veteran pastor.

The Leadership Roundtable can make a great contribution in the coming months as the U.S. Bishops contemplate revisions to the Program of Priestly Formation.  The Roundtable can provoke discussion about whether the PPF ought to pay closer attention to the topic of leadership development for seminarians. 

A publication in 2008 of the National Catholic Educational Association, In Fulfillment of Their Mission, has affirmed the importance of leadership training for priests from a practical point of view.[1]  The publication describes the nine “duties” of the Catholic priest, of which the fourth is to “lead” parish administration.  Administration encompasses eleven distinct tasks, including the leadership of pastoral and finance councils, the oversight of planning ministry, and stewardship, and the supervision of staff, property, and communication.  While “good shepherd” may be the preferred description of the Catholic pastor, “leadership” is one of his essential duties.

What do members of the Roundtable think the future priest ought to learn regarding leadership?  The Bishops of the USA should welcome its reflections.

[1] Joseph Ippolito, Mark A. Latcovich, and Joyce Malyn-Smith, In Fulfillment of Their Mission: The Duties and Tasks of a Roman Catholic Priest: An Assessment Project, including materials developed by a task force of the Midwest Association of Theological Schools in partnership with Education Development Center, and funded by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion (Washington, D.C.: The National Catholic Educational Association, 2008).  The book describes the leadership of parish administration on pp. 38-43.

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Comment by Marcy Meldahl, SPHR on May 3, 2012 at 10:05am

I think practical training would be extremely beneficial. Not only leadership training, but exposure to accounting, contracts, human resources management, etc. Priests are becoming pastors sooner than in the past, and in our diocese at least might be leading the effort for a building addition, new parish, expansion, etc., and the above information is crucial.

I have understood bishops determine the seminary curriculum, and I have understood seminaries look to the diocese to train priests on these non-theological topics. I know men don't become priests in order to get into administration (because they've told me that!) but good stewardship demands they are at least familiar with accounting and human resources, for example. They can then hire qualified people to advise them and manage the day-to-day affairs.

Comment by Rev. John E. Burger on May 9, 2012 at 9:38pm

Glad to see this issue raised. The seminaries cannot solve every problem by curriculum revision. But something should be done in this area. I think it might be helpful to approach good leadership in the context of ecclesiology which is definitely a required course.

Comment by Michael W. Ryan on May 10, 2012 at 5:44am

The Leadership Roundtable has endorsed as their recommended Best Practice for handling the Church's primary source of income (the Sunday collection) guidelines codified and implemented by the AD of Chicago in 2005.  Those guidelines have been adopted by one or more other arch/dioceses with demonstrably positive results.  Common sense and good business practice dictate that pastors must ensure parishioners monetary gifts are adequately protected from the moment they are placed into the collection basket until they are properly deposited into the parish bank account.  The aforementioned guidelines represent what is essentially the only way to effectively accomplish that objective, thereby making the guidelines not only proper but (arguably) a mandatory component of any seminarian's education in parish administration.


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