'Good Leaders, Good Shepherds' a

'wonderful opportunity for priests'

By David Myers

 Where does a priest go for continuing education -- not in theology or Church teaching, but in how simply to be a better priest, how to be a better shepherd to his flock, a better leader to his people?

    On March 24, 18 priests from the Diocese of Dodge City will join 19 priests from the Diocese of Salina in embarking on a two-year journey. Together, they will begin a series of classes, some one-day, others requiring over- night stays in Hays or Great Bend, during which they will learn how to better shepherd and lead their people.
    This is the “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program, and it is being utilized in dioceses around the country.
    When asked if the challenges priests face have changed over time, Bishop Paul S. Coakley of Salina told the Register, “Priestly ministry has not changed in its essentials. Priests are still ordained to teach, govern and sanctify the people entrusted to their care. They share in Christ’s own threefold office as priest, prophet and king. But while seminaries do a good job preparing future priests to exercise their office as teachers and to celebrate the sacraments, they do not focus a great deal on the governance, or leadership responsibilities of priesthood.”
    Where priestly ministry has changed a great deal in recent years, he said, is in the “demands and expectations being placed on priests in terms of leadership. Priests today have to be much more involved working with various kinds of lay leaders, whether it be a parish life coordinator, the parish pastoral council, school council and various organizations. This type of leadership requires particular skills and a good deal of confidence that our priestly leadership is not threatened or diminished by lay involvement and cooperation.”
    Bishop Coakley said “‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’ will help our priests recognize their own uniqueness as leaders, but also help them develop the skills and attitudes they need to be more effective collaborators with the bishop, with one another and with lay leaders in their parishes.”
    Father Jim Dieker, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Liberal, said he feels “like I need all the help I can get to utilize my pasturing presence. I certainly am feeling challenged by the attention to Hispanic ministry and the greater demand on the priesthood today. I’m always hoping to find resources and tools to manage it better.”
    Father Gregory LeBlanc, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Pratt, said he had always been interested in developing himself professionally as a priest.
    “How do we best do that?” he asked. “I think that if there is any program or system that I can avail myself to that can help me to be the best pastoral leader and shepherd to my parish that I can be, in my mind, that’s something I’m interested in.”
    Father LeBlanc said that while it’s very important to know where your gifts and talents lie, it’s just as important to know those areas in which you are not as gifted.
    “There are many areas of parish life where you’re gifted at something and not so much at another,” he said. “If it all continues to function, how do you improve yourself? How do you make sure that things get done? Parishes of today, and increasingly of the future, will have to have more lay involvement.
    “I’m hoping this program will help me to really hone management skills that someone really doesn’t teach you. How do you manage employees, encourage volunteers? Either you learn on the job or in the trenches or you never come to a place where you really master those. But all of us need those.
    “I think ‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’ is a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “I thank the diocese and other parishes that are doing this.”
    Father Rene Pulgarin, parochial vicar of St. Paul’s Parish in the Diocese of Trenton, NJ, recently completed the “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” program, which he described as bringing “to my life a different view of the pastoral work. …That is about me building projects and programs so people can build their own lives based in Christ.”
    Father William Kessler, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Springfield, Ill., also completed the program.
    “As I develop as a good leader and good shepherd and capitalize on the investment … made into ‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’, one of the things that I hope for is that the folks who are in the church will see in me someone who is not overburdened, unhappy, burned out, but someone who is effective, a true leader, and who is joyful in what he’s doing.”