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Priests from across state graduate from program designed to make them

‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’

See photos from the graduation celebration

GREAT BEND -- In March 2009, nearly 30 priests from the Dioceses of Salina and Dodge City, and two from the Archdiocese of Kansas City, volunteered to embark on a two-year program designed to make them stronger leaders in their parishes, better managers, and more capable stewards of time, talent and treasure.  
On Oct. 28, those same priests gathered at the Dominican Motherhouse in Great Bend to celebrate their graduation from the “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program. Father Rene Labrador, a missionary priest serving as pastor of St. Michael Parish in LaCrosse, explained that almost four years ago  when he came to the Diocese of Dodge City, “I honestly thought I had what it takes to be a servant leader, to be a shepherd. But through my journey through Good Leaders, Good Shepherds, I said, ‘Wow; This is awesome.’ It’s like, I have a yard and you gave me an acre. Yes indeed, this program has offered me an enormous amount of information and knowledge. I honestly believe this process should be a must for all priests, especially missionary priests like me serving in this particular part of the world. …”
During 10 day-long sessions and six three-day sessions, the priests explored values that strengthened their leadership skills.     
In a letter to parishes prior to the start of the program, Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore wrote that the participants would learn “how to set goals for themselves and those with whom they minister, and would further develop their listening skills and their ability to facilitate problem solving and decision making.”
The priests also learned to foster partnerships that enhanced their ministry and parish life, “using Jesus as the ultimate shepherd and model of leadership.”
And while a challenging process, they seemed to have a good time doing it.
At the graduation celebration, Father Labrador told those gathered that “Being born and raised in a small island in the Philippines, traveling by boat became part of my life. I loved watching the beautiful scenery, and the gorgeous deep clean blue sea. I remember I enjoyed a cold bucket of beer while conversing with some friends. But what made my experience really exciting and enjoyable was not the departure or the arrival, but the way, the journey…. I guess this is also true in our Good Leader, Good Shepherd training.
“At times the way was rough and very challenging. It really was as a struggle. But I felt a sense of joy and excitement along the way. Every minute of the process was truly interesting and thought provoking.
“Yes, there is still so much to be done,” Father Labrador said. “I know the journey’s a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and patience….
“As I apply my knowledge I learned from this training in my parish ministry, I know I will in the process build not only my confidence, but also develop my skill in leading and shepherding my own self and the people entrusted to my pastoral care.”
Father Nicholas Parker, a young priest who was given his first pastorate (of Sacred Heart Parish in Atwood) last July, admitted that when his pastor encouraged him to join the program last year, he was reluctant, a reluctance that didn’t necessarily change after the first workshop, or “module.”
“It was incredibly overwhelming,” he said. “I didn’t know what I got myself into.” Yet he quickly found himself using the methods he had learned in his everyday life.
He was pleased in particular with the idea of setting goals:
“I find that I need that discipline,” he said. “I’m usually very spontaneous. I like to do things as they come. For example, we recently decided we’d have a liturgy renewal day. I said I’d do some research and get back to them. I never got back. So, I said, ‘Let’s put something on the calendar and list goals and make sure we can obtain this.’
“I know I still have a lot of skills to work on and a lot of skills to refine. … I really feel now that I have the ability to look at the parish, look at the state that it’s in, come up with a vision, and I at least have the tools to bring that vision about.”
Good Leaders, Good Shepherds is a program of the Catholic Leadership Institute, headquartered in Wayne, Penn. Present at the graduation was Father Bill Dickinson, National Director of CLI.
“This is essentially a master’s program in leadership development,” he said proudly. “We don’t know of any industry corporate leadership training program that is as comprehensive as this.
“…It has been our intent in part to help make your lives be full and rich, abundant, so that the wellspring of compassion and passion, leadership and council, fills the lives of your people. …We just like to think you have a few more skill sets to kind of polish off a few of the rough edges that, as you serve the people of God, [will enable them to] more clearly see the presence of the living one within you.”
Dennis VanAuken, who co-presented the workshops with Barbara Eckert, said, “It’s so awesome as a lay person to participate in this ministry. My hope and prayer for all of you is be patient. It is a life-long journey. … Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for being priests in our Church.”
Through tears, Eckert told the priests that the program had been a journey for her as well. “You know you’re in my heart, and I care about what happens to you.”
After each priest received a certificate and pin, the Most Rev. Ronald Gilmore said to laughter, “You all have equivalents of master’s degrees, and Bishop Paul [Coakley] told me it would be reflected on your next paycheck.
“…So, what do you do now?” the bishop asked. “I hope you will take time to absorb the techniques and the habits you have examined at such length. You have seen too much, perhaps, and too quickly. You may find it hard to make room for it amongst your other thoughts, and habits, and experiences, hard to make room for it in the already fully-furnished rooms of your mind. Give yourself time to take in all its implications, as Paul gave himself time after his experience on the road to Damascus (some say he spent two years in the desert sorting it all out). Give yourself time to absorb the pastoral instincts behind the vision you studied.”
In his homily at a Mass prior to the graduation, he told the priests that “You now have the tools to do this essential work of a pastor in yet another way. I shall be curious to see what you and your parishioners create through your own judgments and your own imaginations, all the while working with the God of all Imagination.”
The priests offered their sincere appreciation -- including a round of applause  -- for the kindness and service shown them by the staff of the Dominican Motherhouse.

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