A new presbyteral vision in Los Angeles
When people ask Msgr. James Loughnane when he’s going to retire, he has a ready response: “I am not going to retire; I’m going to re-fire.”
And, as he serves in his 51st year of priesthood, the pastor of St. Denis Church, Diamond Bar, is accumulating more knowledge and training to help him better serve the people of God, thanks to a formation program that aims to assist priests --- especially pastors --- in developing leadership and administrative skills they likely didn’t acquire in their seminary years.
Msgr. Loughnane is one of 35 priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who have passed the halfway point of “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,” a process developed by the Catholic Leadership Institute of Wayne, Pa., which offers intensive training on how to be a pastor --- a shepherd, as Jesus would be.
Divided into six three-and-a-half-day “modules” over the course of 18 months, “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” aims “to help Catholic priests overcome the challenges today of a diminishing number of clergy and more complex circumstances for priestly ministry,” using Christ as “the ultimate shepherd and model of leadership.”
Ultimately, as articulated by CLI, the goal of the program “is to minimize the frustration and energy spent on administrative roles, and maximize the joy and time spent on the pastoral duties for which they were uniquely ordained. The impact will be more holy, healthy and happy shepherds of vibrant parish communities, leading more people to a deeper relationship with Christ.”
Msgr. Richard Martini, chair of the Archdiocesan Council of Priests, says that both Cardinal Roger Mahony, under whom the program was first begun in the archdiocese, and Archbishop José Gomez have approved the program so that all priests may participate in “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds.”
“The priests in the archdiocese expect the program to better develop our fraternity and help us to vision as a presbyterate,” said Msgr. Martini, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Santa Clarita, and a former director of the Office for Vocations. “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,” he noted, combines the science of leadership with the teachings of Jesus Christ “to offer the very best in leadership training.”
During the second week of June, as priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles gathered at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo for their annual “days of study,” the 35 participants in “Good Leaders” began the fourth of their six modules in leadership training, having met previously at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre.
The group, or “cohort,” continued work done in three previous modules --- exploring ways of developing high impact teams within the parish, teams that will make a difference and, under the sponsorship of the pastor, achieve goals. These “working teams” are developed with realistic goals, important expectations, periods of evaluation, and become a working part of the parish.
Meanwhile, another group of 30 priests came to St. John’s in June to begin Module 1: the priest preparing himself for leadership, and understanding “the priest you know you are, the priest others want you to be, and the priest you want to become.”
For all who participate, whether relatively new or a veteran of parish leadership, CLI makes a difference.
“They have not had much experience or many classes in how to manage people, how to manage a building or volunteers,” noted Lucille Smith, a CLI “learning leader” and presenter at the L.A. sessions. “Today most men about to be ordained are very aware that they will probably become pastors very soon, maybe even before they have completed their first assignment as an associate pastor. Study, preparation and readiness for this shift in roles takes time and can be daunting.
“This process gives them tools so that they can raise their competency levels. In module three, for example, they learn to develop a staff member or a key volunteer. How do you give that person feedback? How do you resolve conflict when it does occur? They are learning how to be very clear and articulate in what they are asking people to do, so ultimately it will lead to more success, and people will know what they are saying yes to and what they are being asked to do.”
Fellow CLI learning leader Mike Fullam said he was impressed by the response from local priests to the program
“This cohort is very, very engaged,” he said. “It’s a very diverse group. They encourage one another, help one another, and the questions they ask are at a really high level. It’s very rewarding to see how they have embraced the curriculum, and I think they see how it can assist them make a difference in their ministry.”
Among participants, the response to “Good Shepherds” has been positive.
“This program is very helpful,” asserted Father Albert Bahhuth, in his ninth year as pastor at St. Finbar, Burbank. “This gives us practical tools to help us with ministry and be effective working together with the people; to know the different ways that people behave helps us be more effective as we work with the people and be more effective communicators and collaborators. And it helps to know our own styles of leadership as well, and our own behaviors; how we operate in ministry is based upon who we are. You have to know yourself to be an effective leader.”
“I want to be prepared; I want to be a more effective priest and be as balanced as I can be,” said Redemptorist Father Laurence Gallagher, an associate pastor at St. John of God in Norwalk who was ordained in Ireland. “I believe in collaborative ministry, and this is a good, inclusive module because it brings out the best of everyone’s gifts in parish ministry.”
“The reality,” said Msgr. Martini, “is that there are fewer of us and we have to work smarter. Some were intimidated before they came to this program, but now having participated they feel like the burden is off their shoulders. This is about giving the priests the competence and confidence to utilize the gifts of the people of the parish in ministry.”
A major and positive component of “Good Leaders,” noted Msgr. Craig Cox, rector of St. John’s Seminary, is that it connects well with what the seminary itself has emphasized with respect to collaborative ministry.
“A key element of priestly formation, or any formation in this day and age, is to have a collaborative vision, to be able to work together and complement each other,” he explained. “I have no crystal ball to foretell the future but I can say that our formation is much more integrated and comprehensive, giving our future priests a very solid foundation in what Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation, referred to as the four essential dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.”
Although not a pastor or in fulltime parish ministry, Father Leon Hutton, St. John’s director of human formation and evaluation, signed up for “Good Leaders” because “the seminary formation we are offering is a step toward this process. The institute is a natural progression. It enhances priesthood, a sense of mission, of being with the people of God. We really are collaborators in the building of the kingdom; we are serving together in our unique roles. It is affirming to me that we are doing a pretty good job here.”
He and others were impressed that the CLI process invited participants to address their own strengths and abilities (or lack thereof), allowing them to also recognize those of others.
“When I am open to others’ abilities and aware of how I respond, and by not making a judgment about whether it is a strength or weakness, then I can make decisions and be aware of the abilities and talents of others in ministry around me,” he said. “That is how I can utilize strengths and weaknesses of others. This approach really fosters collaborative ministry.”
As a priest for 50 years and a pastor for more than 30, Msgr. Loughnane nonetheless remains open to trying something new.
“We all have something to learn,” he says. “Over the years I’ve tried to better myself in terms of education and keeping up with what is going on, and I’ve often been teased a bit about being a pilot parish [at St. Denis] for all the programs going on, because I’m open to stuff. But I like to support what is going on in the archdiocese --- and, as chair of the Priests’ Personnel Board, these guys need to know I am behind it.
“So that’s why I am here. I have a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy, a lot of commitment. I think ‘Good Leaders’ is the best thing to come along in a long, long time. As far as education and implementation and the usability of it, I think it is wonderful.”
“Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” is financed by a grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation. The parish of each participant pays $1,000 toward the total cost of the program and the individual priest pays $500 of his own money. Those wishing to sponsor a priest or to contribute to “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” may send a check made payable to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (indicate “GLGS Training” in the memo line of the check) to Msgr. Richard Martini, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 23233 Lyons Ave., Newhall, CA 91321.