Lenny, “Little Ways,” & Lay Legwork Grow Leadership in this Parish

St. Thérèse Little Flower Catholic Church is located on the east edge of the campus of Notre Dame University in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Right now, they are participating – with great commitment and energy – in Catholic Leadership Institute’s Next Generation Parish (NGP) initiative.

Next Generation Parish is a comprehensive, four-year journey to propel parishes into the future as vibrant faith communities with engaged parishioners who are actively becoming intentional disciples of Christ. Results are measured carefully to ensure progress, and leaders are engaged with purpose and passion.

Already, St. Thérèse Parish has seen an evolution in parishioner involvement, an energizing vision with corresponding goals, and a growth in every level of leadership at their parish as a result. All of this has helped them remain steadfast and motivated in the midst of pastoral transition.

Next Generation Parish has helped this parish focus on bringing God’s love to others with trust in the Lord and trust in their parish plan… much like the mission of their patron saint, St. Thérèse the Little Flower.

Leadership Changes; Vision Ensured

Just last month, this parish, experienced a change in pastoral leadership when Fr. Terry Coonan was succeeded by Fr. Julius Okojie.

While Fr. Terry was saddened to leave – especially after working so hard alongside his parishioners in the Next Generation Parish process – he has seen this endeavor set the stage for Fr. Julius and already provide immense benefit to his parishioners.

One thing that Fr. Terry always wanted to do was learn how to create a strategic plan for his parish, but he didn’t know how: until Next Generation Parish.

Fr. Julius Okojie and Fr. Terry Coonan

As part of NGP, Fr. Terry not only learned how to create a vision and plan – he learned how to fuel that vision with a great team. All of this will help make the transition smoother for the entire parish. He shares:

“Our strategic plan builds on our vision. It gives us goals. Having a plan provides peace of mind during this transition. I know the work I started won’t fall apart when I leave… when the new pastor arrives, he will already have clarity, direction, vision, and goals to work for.”

The Hard Work Begins; Lay Leaders Take Ownership

After creating the plan, next came the hard work: implementing the plan. Fr. Terry cites that one of the main lessons he learned from CLI was this: SHARED LEADERSHIP. You need a team to help you lead.

As he leaned on his parishioners to be that team, parishioners of great faith, work ethic, and leadership rose to the occasion.

As NGP continued, Fr. Terry’s team of leaders went from 1… to 4… to 10… to 30… to now over 40 members.

One of those members is Lenny.

Meet Lenny

St. Thérèse is blessed by the leadership of Lenny Strzelecki.

Lenny has been a parishioner for 30 years, serving on committees such as parish council, finance, and ministry.

Lenny was asked by Fr. Terry to co-chair the implementation of the parish plan alongside him. As a former healthcare executive, Lenny recognizes what it takes to not just create a plan, but to live it. He shares:

“It is difficult to create a long-term planning process. It’s hard to create a vision and core values. It’s difficult work and takes a lot of focus. Next Generation Parish helped us get this done and created a springboard.”

Lenny knows it takes a team. As Lenny and Fr. Terry focused on evangelization, discipleship, and accompaniment, they assigned two leaders for each priority. Next, they recruited individuals to help each of the leaders. The circle began to widen.

No one is working alone at St. Thérèse Parish. The parishioners are doing the legwork. They are doing the little things needed to make a big vision come alive.

One example of a task that arose from their plan was the implementation of a parish phone tree to communicate better, to stay in touch with parishioners, to reach out to those they haven’t heard from in a while, and to see if any parishioners are in need of prayers. This effort began with two people; today it is a “big thriving team.”

Lenny says of this steady growth of leadership: “It isn’t a trickle-down effect… it’s an evolvement.”

Ready for Transition & Ready for the Future

As the parish prepared for the pastoral transition, questions arose such as: “What’s going to happen when Fr. Terry leaves? What if in a year we lose one of our lay leaders? What if a priority team is down a volunteer?”

Lenny says, “The biggest impact of this program has been to create structure… there will be someone to step in – we have a plan in place for a pastor to step in and for new leaders to rise up. New people can bring new thoughts, but the structure is there.”

This is the blessing of shared leadership… of dedicated lay leaders… of a solid, faith-filled, goal-driven plan.

This is the sum of all the little things each parishioner at St. Thérèse has done to add up to a solid parish where there is no one leader but many!

The Team Behind the Parish

It is important to note that Next Generation Parish has been made possible in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend thanks to the generous support of individuals and foundations who believe in leaders like Lenny and parishes like St. Thérèse Little Flower Catholic Church.

The Bible states it best:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up…”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Thank you to all participants in Next Generation Parish; thank you to our generous benefactors; thank you to all those who keep this initiative in your prayers.

You are all a part of the team.

by Chad Peddicord

July 15, 2021

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