By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — When a young man hears the call to the priesthood, often he attends a seminary college for a liberal arts education, then is sent to a four-year seminary for intensive study of Theology and other course work designed to prepare and form him to be a priest. Many newly ordained priests, however, find themselves assigned as Associates for a parish with few management and leadership skills. But that is changing.
Kansas City-St Joseph diocesan Bishop James Johnston, Jr. had requested regular ongoing educational opportunities for the priests.
Father Justin Hoye, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish and Director of the Office of Priestly Life and Ministry, said that part of that office is providing priests with formation and regular educational opportunities.
Last Spring, he continued, Jesuit Father Bill Oulvey (now at Regis University in Denver) who was then the Jesuit representative on the diocesan Presbyteral Council, invited the council to consider using the Helzberg School of Management for newly ordained priests. He and Father Charles Rowe, Vicar General for Pastoral Affairs, met with Helzberg School representatives, held a focus group with a number of diocesan priests and from that created a 9-month program.
Since September, Rockhurst University, in conjunction with the Helzberg School of Management and the Office of Mission and Ministry, has offered a monthly program, Priest Leadership Formation Program, to newly ordained priests in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The course is taught by Rockhurst faculty or Alumni with expertise in the areas of management and leadership, and /or ties to the diocese.
The diocese chose 13 men for the initial course, all ordained within the last 7 years, most with pastoral assignments. The priestly group meets monthly at Rockhurst for case studies, discussion, short presentations and expert panels, depending on the topic. Some of the topics in the course syllabus include: Personal Leadership Style, and Different Leadership Styles; Situational Communication Essentials and Listening; Conflict Management and Communication; Meeting Management and Communication; Crisis Communication and Complex Human Relationships; Leadership vs. Management; Language and Format of Financial Statements and Cash Flow; Hiring and Termination and Liability, and Performance Evaluations, Setting Expectations and Conducting Performance Reviews. Between the monthly sessions, the priests are expected to read assigned material and write reflections.
A recent session on Conflict Management and Crisis Communication was taught by Bill White, VP of Corporate Communications for Sprint. Bishop Johnston sat in on the session for a time, as did Rockhurst University President Father Tom Curran, SJ. The session was interactive with White and Helzberg Professor of Analytics and Management Myles Gartland both asking and answering questions. Social media was discussed as were the difference between issues and crises, and how communication is best managed.
Bishop Johnston recalled, “One of the things that hit me like a ton of bricks when I was ordained was that as soon as you’re ordained, the second half of your education begins. Everything up to ordination is, in a sense, Theory.” He added that yes, seminarians do practical things in their practicums, but “almost immediately after ordination, someone asks, ‘Can you bless me? Can I talk to you? Can we go to confession?’ and you realize this is different!
The first years are really a continuation of learning. You have real people, real life, real sorrows, real challenges and real joys. It’s human life with all its complexities. It’s a mix of the human condition.
“When made pastor,” Bishop Johnston said, “there’s another layer of complexity that’s added. It’s personalities, conflicts, money, communication, basic leadership. It’s then that you realize, ‘I don’t remember too many classes on this!’”
Father Hoye is one of the students. He reflected on what he has learned as a student and how he has implemented his new understanding and skills as a pastor. “I’ve learned that good communication skills are something that must be practiced intentionally.
“As a pastor,” he continued, “I’ve implemented some best practices learned with regards to management, specifically with my parish staff meetings. The staff seems happy with the new approach!”
A similar program was initiated in 2005, but fizzled out. This program is going strong. Father Hoye said he wanted to “note how appreciative he is of the Helzberg School of Management and its leaders … generous with their time and resources in helping us form priests into effective leaders for their communities.”
Jesuit Father Tom Curran likened his job as president of a large university with a pastorate of a large parish. “It’s making responsible decisions, maintaining good communication with staff and students/parishioners, and balancing the mission of the institution while staying true to your vocation. That’s part of the Rockhurst University niche: bringing leadership and management skills to bear while balancing vocations.”
The half-day monthly sessions go from September to May.