Speakers say parishes thrive with strong leadership, management

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- When Father Joseph Donnelly became pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Southbury, Conn., in 2003, there was "no 'parish staff' to speak of" except a secretary and a religious education director, he said.

Since his arrival he has hired "a full-time pastoral associate, full-time director of religious education, associate religious education director, administrative assistant in faith formation, custodian, secretary/business manager and director of music ministry," along with "a part-time youth minister."

Father Donnelly reviewed his 2,200-household, suburban Catholic parish's recent history during the June 26-27 annual meeting of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management in Philadelphia. Through team-building, he and parish staffers have made themselves accountable to one another, he said.

Another speaker, Leisa Anslinger, who is on the pastoral staff at a Cincinnati parish, described how leaders at her parish have fostered a sense of belonging among parishioners, leading to more ministries and increased stewardship in last 10 years.

The Philadelphia meeting drew business leaders and bishops, philanthropists and pastors, educators, lay pastoral ministers and others to discuss managerial excellence and leadership in Catholic dioceses and parishes.

"Through weekly staff meetings, an annual staff retreat day and job descriptions," Father Donnelly has "tried to encourage an atmosphere of collaboration and team work" in his Connecticut parish. Last year he initiated annual staff reviews in the parish -- reviews he does not conduct alone, but in a collaborative manner with the other staff members and during which even he is reviewed.

Father Donnelly told the leadership meeting about steps taken to get the new staff to view themselves as a team. "We're accountable to one another," he said, and the staff today is "development oriented. We see ourselves as always on the journey, always challenged."

Participants in the meeting held at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School explored "management" and "leadership" as separate but overlapping responsibilities in Catholic communities.

The challenge at the parish level "is getting both the leadership and management working together," according to Francis J. Butler, a member of the board of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.

"When you have leadership without management, oftentimes things just don't get done" or there is nothing to measure "whether you are succeeding," said Butler, who is president of the Washington-based Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, known as FADICA.

However, he cautioned, "when you have management without leadership, you get bureaucracy and immobility."

Anslinger, who for the past 12 years has been on the pastoral staff at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Cincinnati, described that parish's transformation over a period of 10 years -- a transformation that encompassed a 115 percent increase in parish ministries and an even greater increase in financial stewardship.

"We experienced a transformation of the parish and the community in which people began to see the parish as their home" -- a community inviting their engagement and participation, Anslinger said.

She cited research by the Gallup Organization showing that when people have a profound "sense of belonging to their parish," they are more likely to live as spiritually committed individuals who invite others to their parish, serve in the community, give more generously to their parish and "experience life satisfaction."

For Anslinger, there are parishes "that stand out as communities that do all they can to embody living discipleship. In meeting those parishes through the witness of their parishioners, others are given hope for all that is possible in a Catholic parish."

Franciscan Sister Katarina Schuth, a noted church researcher and seminary educator in St. Paul, Minn., asked what bishops and priests can do to be effective leaders and managers in the face of a growing phenomenon -- priests who serve multiple parishes.

She told participants of the round-table meeting that she believes more than 50 percent of U.S. parishes and missions are today served by a priest ministering to more than one parish. Most of these parishes are small; often they are rural.

She wrote a 2006 book titled "Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes" on the rapidly growing number of U.S. Catholic priests who serve more than one parish.

She said that 90 percent of priests in multiple-parish ministry were not prepared for their role. She encouraged bishops to demonstrate concern for these priests' well-being and truly to understand what is entailed by a ministry to multiple parishes.

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