At the beginning of this year, Catholic Leadership Institute hosted the annual Bishops Session with a special emphasis on Shepherding a Multigenerational Presbyterate. The leadership accompaniment to the bishops had such a positive effect on the bishops themselves that we decided to take this training to another level, extending our support to Vicars for Clergy.

On May 23-27th CLI hosted a retreat for Vicars for Clergy – the first such event of its kind - to directly support their specific leadership role in the Church, which connects the episcopal vision of the bishop with the needs, desires, and personal attention required for each priest in the presbyterate.

The USCCB defines the Vicar for Clergy as: "A priest or auxiliary bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in a specific part of the diocese, over certain groups in the diocese, or over certain areas of church affairs. Some large dioceses, for example, are divided geographically into several vicariates or regions, with an episcopal vicar for each; some dioceses have episcopal vicars for clergy or religious or for Catholics of certain racial or ethnic groups."

The Vicar for Clergy role is without a doubt, a “vocation within a vocation.” Catholic Leadership Institute developed a week-long leadership training experience in collaboration with Fr. Mark Toups, Pastor of Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church in Grand Isle and formator at The Institute of Priestly Formation (IPF). Thanks to generous philanthropists, this session was provided at no cost to the priests or their home dioceses.

The retreat took place by Gulf shores in Grand Isle, Louisiana. The natural landscape of the ocean and fishing marina lent to the experience of the Vicars for Clergy in attendance. Every day, as fishermen entered and exited the marina in the hope of a great catch for the day, these priests in a nearby seaside conference center focused their attention and prayer toward answering the call to, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” - Matthew 4:19

Jeff Pattison, Leadership Consultant at CLI, is the project lead for Vicar for Clergy retreats. While Fr. Mark Toups provided the course content and accompaniment, Jeff brought CLI’s vision and support to the table and will continue to support these priests in their ministry moving forward. Jeff shares, “In most cases, the sole job of the Vicar for Clergy in a diocese is to support his fellow priests and their mental well-being, physical needs. They oversee priest assignments and work between the bishop and presbyterate. They tend to know the priests in their presbyterate best and need to step up to make sure they are being supported.”

Jeff recalls, “Fr. Mark Toups wanted our participants to have space. We factored in time for rest, reflection, and prayer while also building out an intense time of study.” Fr. Mark began the week with conceptual ideas, purposes, and goals for the Vicars for Clergy which, as the week transpired, began to take form in details and recommendations. By the end of the session, the priests in attendance had a plan for how they were going to implement the details into their work in the diocese.

Topics included time management, spiritual renewal, alignment between reactive vs. proactive planning, building a team, organizing SPUR (Strengthen, Prepare, Understand, Renew) groups for priest support, and creating bridges between the bishops and the presbyterate. By the end of the week, the Vicars for Clergy had a three-point plan created so that, once employed in their diocese, they could expect to know the needs of every priest, to have the bishop hear from every priest, to successfully host a convocation, and establish a multi-faceted approach to their presbyterate support.

“We’re here for them, moving forward.” Jeff explained, “As they go back to their dioceses and begin aligning their plans with the vision of their bishops and the needs of the priests, we’re here to provide support for him and his needs.” We are grateful for this chance to combine our efforts with the expertise of Fr. Mark Toups, to guide these Vicars for Clergy as to what’s in their heart for the care of the presbyterate and in alignment with their bishops’ visions and ultimately, grow in their confidence and competence in ministry.

Our next Vicar for Clergy session will take place in August, and space is already at maximum capacity. Please pray for these priests and the hard work and care they are investing in their vocation within a vocation – at the service of their bishops and their brother priests.

by Mike School

June 07, 2023

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