Priests Answer the Call to Be MORE in the Diocese of Savannah

Personal growth is always positive. To grow personally, we must allow the light of God to shine on us and on our imperfections.

--Fr. Scott Winchel VF, Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon GA

One of the greatest blessings in working for Catholic Leadership Institute is the opportunity to witness transformation, good work, and amazing faith amongst the courageous, faithful, and dedicated leaders we serve. Lately, I’ve heard the call of the Holy Spirit asking me to share these beautiful insights with you, the members of our Catholic Leadership Institute family. You pray for us, support us, and participate in our programs; my hope is that as I share these stories, you feel like you are walking alongside these leaders with us.

The Feast of the Ascension portrays God calling Jesus back to heaven to be with Him; it is a promise of greater things to come. In a similar way, Called For More – Catholic Leadership Institute’s newest endeavor – calls priests to greater things.

Catholic Leadership Institute introduced Called for More in response to many Bishops expressed desire for more intentional care for priests and more informed transitions in ministry and parish assignment. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, CLI was awarded a grant from the Lilly Foundation which provided the initial funding for pilots and system development. Preparation phases began in four pilot dioceses in August 2019, one of which is the Diocese of Savannah.

The Diocese of Savannah Answers the Call to Support Priests, Dioceses, and Parishes in a New Way

Bishop Hartmayer (recently installed as Archbishop of Atlanta) quickly embraced Called for More as a means to support the personal growth of priests and to collect data to support diocesan planning. Called For More is comprehensive in scope, benefitting priests, dioceses and parishes both individually and collectively.

Based on the premise that we all are "called for more," the offering provides the opportunity for all priests, regardless of role or tenure, to reflect on their own experience, preferences and passions, gain feedback from peers and from an objective questionnaire. Parishes complete the Disciple Maker Index and a survey of key leaders, which provide the pastor and parish a view of values along with parishioner faith journey and engagement. The diocese gains a comprehensive view of priests and parishes with supporting data. The visibility of this information can transform the process for planning transitions, and provide for the support and development of priests so they thrive in future roles.

Data gathering has continued even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Priests in the diocese of Savannah are completing their input, as are the parish leaders. The information will be shared with them in the next few months. Two of the priests in Savannah share their experience.

Meet Fr. Scott Winchel, VF: Helicopters, Holiness, & Humility

Fr. Scott Winchel currently serves as the pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in Macon, GA, and is a member of the Priest Personnel committee for the Diocese of Savannah. Fr. Scott grew up in rural Missouri in the Baptist faith, converting to Catholicism as an adult. Prior to becoming a Catholic priest, he was a marine helicopter mechanic and an airplane mechanic, and continues to work on an old car as a hobby.

Fr. Scott completed Good Leaders, Good Shepherds as part of a cohort from the Diocese of Savannah. " The more we know about the human person, our individual traits and God-given ways, the better we are able to unpack values, overcome obstacles and help other people," says Fr. Scott.

Regarding Called for More, Fr. Scott likes the premise and the process. "Personal growth is always positive," he says, "we learn in seminary that we need to have goals. Even a priest with 20 to 30 years of experience has something to learn."

"Called for More allows for reflection from different angles. It is good to have the questionnaires and the peer feedback. The Preferences and Passions section helped me to look inside myself. We will get input from the people and from peers who we chose to respond on our behalf, often as separate from our role in the parish. And the Coach-Mentor section provides the opportunity for learning through questions and feedback."

A year ago, the pastoral council was in the process of identifying strengths and opportunities for St. Joseph’s parish and were challenged with what to use as a survey. Fr. Scott likes the questions in the Disciple Maker Index. "there is no bias in the questions, no sense of an agenda behind the survey," he says, " the questions are balanced, and this is a safe place for parishioners to respond. It lays a beautiful foundation for the parish."

"To do good requires humility and illumination" says Fr. Scott, "by coasting we become mediocre. It is good to have goals, and Called for More brings all aspects of this together."

Meet Fr. Pablo Migone: Feedback, Fraternity, & Forming Teams

Fr. Pablo Migone is Chancellor and Vocations Director for the Diocese of Savannah and served as the Bishop’s Master of Ceremony until the recent appointment as Archbishop of Atlanta.

Fr. Pablo also graduated from the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program, which helped him to create a format for how he thinks of himself and others. He found the fraternity extremely helpful along with greater understanding about how his brother priests think. When forming teams, Fr. Pablo uses the concepts he learned in GLGS, including how important it is for people to have different points of view.

Fr. Pablo referred to his first pastor when asked about Called for More: "My pastor said no one evaluates us. I have been a priest for 40 years! He recognized that he would have benefitted from feedback and evaluation."

That is why Called for More is so essential: it provides priests with the gift of feedback. Fr. Pablo states, "Many priests get used to not being evaluated, so they can resent it when they get feedback. The questions in Called for More are not intrusive. The way they are worded and asked is handled very well. "

The entire process was easy to go through, and it took me less time than I expected. The self-reflection is a huge benefit by itself. I heard that many of the priests thought it was good. It provides an opportunity to let others know what we are interested in." Fr. Pablo says that the parishioners also have been happy to complete the Disciple Maker Index. They appreciate the ability to participate and provide input.

Fr. Pablo believes that Called for More will truly help the Bishops make more informed decisions about priest placements and transitions. He considers the whole program a way to provide a reflection for priests, bishops and the faithful to consider their role and circumstance and find blind spots. "At the end of the process we will have priest and parish information, which will provide a much more accurate picture of who we have in priest personnel. A new pastor will have full information about the parish, which will allow for a smoother transition. We will make better-informed personnel decisions."

And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.

The Ascension reminds us of God’s omnipotent power to transform; every day, I am reminded of this power when I see leadership transformed, parishes increasing in vibrancy, and the presence of Christ hard at work amongst our community of leaders… Called For More asks our priests to be more, do more, and love more for our faith. I am proud to say they are answering the call.

We know that the ascended Jesus is still with us because of His promise, "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." I hope that reminder on this Feast of the Ascension brings you comfort today. Catholic Leadership Institute continues to keep you and your loved ones in our prayers for health, healing, and hope during this time.

by Terry Poplava

July 24, 2020

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