Filling the Gap Between Priestly Ministry and Administration

Dear Friends,

As we embark upon a new year, Catholic Leadership Institute is filled with hope and positioned for a year filled with meaningful ministry.

Looking forward, I find myself also looking back on one of our early priestly support programs: Good Leaders, Good Shepherds, and its ongoing positive impact on our Church.

Below, meet Fr. Ralph O’Donnell and read about his journey through Good Leaders, Good Shepherds in the Diocese of Omaha, NE.

Keeping you in my prayers for a happy, healthy, and holy 2023!

Good Leaders, Good Shepherds

Filling the Gap Between Priestly Ministry and Administration

When Fr. Ralph O’Donnell joined the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds cohort in 2021, he was, to the outside eye, aptly prepared for his new assignment as pastor of a large urban parish in the Archdiocese of Omaha. After 25 years of experience in priestly ministry, Fr. O’Donnell understood management, was an effective leader and skilled in the work of formation. He had worked in the curia, the seminary, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Yet, Fr. O’Donnell sought something more in his priestly formation. At the invitation of his archbishop, Fr. O’Donnell enrolled in Good Leaders, Good Shepherds and found a bridge to fill the gap between his priestly ministry and the administration of a parish community.

This particular Good Leaders, Good Shepherds cohort consisted of 12 priests in the Archdiocese of Omaha, varying in age, cultural background, and years of priestly ministry. Fr. O’Donnell was edified by five sessions and a total 17 days spent with his brother priests in prayer, study, and theological reflection. He shared, “The Good Leaders, Good Shepherds cohort refreshed things I learned over years, affirmed things I experienced in administration and parish life and, most importantly, gave me new skills and new perspectives for my work as a pastor. The content blended professional tools and resources with the spiritual components of our Catholic Faith.”

This particular training for clergy is not only the foundation of future growth in parishes, it is the cornerstone of Catholic Leadership Institute’s many curricula and programs. By the end of 2021, 2,798 priests had graduated from the program over its decade-long history. Fr. O’Donnell affirmed the need for this program in the health and holiness of the Church, “Anything that can be done to help priests assert themselves, be more efficient, and be comfortable with administrative tasks is ultimately going to set a culture and climate that is more conducive to prayer.”

Refresh Learnings

The program’s presentations took real-life scenarios that managers in the corporate world might encounter and applied them to the administration of a parish. Topics included management, organizational skills, personalities, motivation, and feasibility studies. Fr. O’Donnell noted that, “The presentations took any circumstance that a director or manager in a corporate setting would deal with and brought to them the lens of pastoral application and work in the faith community.”

Affirm Experiences

After returning to his parish, Fr. O’Donnell immediately began implementing the tools he received, evaluating performance of parish staff, and identifying their strengths vs. areas of growth. Fr. O’Donnell and his fellow Good Leaders, Good Shepherds alumni are given ongoing access to the templates and tools from the cohort and enjoy mentorship among each other and from CLI Leadership Consultants.

New Skills

While the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program has been effective for many years, it will, in some ways, always be new. The challenges and needs of the Church and her priests change and grow with time, as do leadership and management skills. Fr. O’Donnell and his fellow priests were challenged in their cohort to learn new skills and adapt their ways of thinking to become more effective pastors. Fr. O’Donnell is applying these newly learned skills in real-time by establishing six new standing committees of lay leaders in his parish. He is utilizing the templates from the program and focusing on the main goal: to receive the gift of salvation and serve the Kingdom of God. By equipping lay leaders in his parish, he can focus more directly on his priestly duties, which are his alone by ordained ministry and cannot be delegated to others.

Just as a father tends to the needs of his household, so do spiritual fathers attend to the needs of the souls entrusted to their care. The 12 priests in the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Good Leaders, Good Shepherds cohort are equipped to better administer to the practical side of the parish and govern more effectively so that they can invest their priestly hearts more fully in the life of their ordained ministry.

by Mike School

January 12, 2023

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