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Priests Complete Good Leaders Good Shepherds Program


Group_1.jpgIt was a moment not so unlike that of traditional graduations as Bishop Bernard A. Hebda and 34 priests serving the Diocese of Gaylord were awarded diplomas for completion of the Good Leaders Good Shepherds program.  There was a sense of accomplishment, relief, and hope as the 18 months of study and practicum assignments culminated in a luncheon ceremony on September 12. 

Focusing on Jesus Christ as the ultimate shepherd and model of leadership, through sessions facilitated through the Catholic Leadership Institute, Good Leaders Good Shepherds curriculum  is designed to help priests overcome today’s challenges of a diminishing number of clergy and more complex circumstances for priestly ministry.

In the Diocese of Gaylord, the vast majority of Pastors are serving more than one parish and face the challenge of balancing not only their pastoral duties, but ensuring the day-to-day administration of multiple parishes is properly cared for. The goal for the program was to help  priests grow in their leadership skills in order to work more effectively alongside their staffs and volunteers so they might reduce the amount of time spent on administrative duties and thus have more time to serve the faithful in the pastoral and sacramental role for which they were ordained.

The hope is that ultimate impact will be more holy, healthy, and happy shepherds of vibrant parish communities, leading more people to a deeper relationship with Christ. Over 60% of the active priests serving the Diocese of Gaylord took part in the program.

DSC_0856_1.JPGThrough a series of seven intensive, multi-day sessions, participants worked through a series of modules designed to help them gain insights as to their own personality and leadership styles while discovering their strengths and developing skills to help them become better leaders to those they serve. Modules covered topics such as creating and implementing a vision for the parish, identifying key responsibilities, effective listening skills and providing meaningful feedback, decision-making and problem-solving, creating and working with councils and committees in order to form strategic relationships to help fulfill pastoral leadership with others. The entire process is rooted in the faith and draws from Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Saints and Church leaders in an atmosphere of prayer.  Each day began with the celebration of Mass and concluded with Evening Prayer. 

Sr. Ellen Doyle, OSU, who facilitated the final session, commented that the Gaylord cohort was noted among CLI presenters for demonstrating many of the qualities of St. Paul, “particularly the quality of kindness,” she said.  “In this large rural diocese you have diverse group of priests, with a wide range of experience as well as new priests and foreign priests.  The kindness you exhibit to one another is remarkable.”

“One of the things I really enjoyed about this process with Good Leaders Good Shepherds was the spirit of fraternity I experienced,” Fr. John McCracken commented.  “I have been in the Diocese 31 years and it has been a special treat to get to know my brother priests even better.  I also learned a great deal about myself,” Fr. McCracken continued.  “I have learned how to be a better leader and have implemented many of the strategies we’ve been taught in my parishes.”  Fr. McCracken served as coordinator for the program with CLI as part of his role as diocesan Vicar for Clergy. He also serves as Pastor of the three parishes which make up the Catholic Community of Manistee.

Rev. Msgr. Francis Murphy, Vicar General of the diocese and Pastor of four parishes, said, “I only wish we had had this 35 years ago!”  Fr. Peter Wigton, Parochial Vicar for the Northern Lights Catholic Community, responded, “But I’m really glad you didn’t because I wouldn’t have been here.” Fr. Wigton added that as a newer priest, he found it inspiring “and helpful to see the dedication of the more experienced priests to learning even in the various stages they are in.” 

DSC_0961_1_1.JPG“Coming from San Diego where we have 260 priests, I feel like I know everyone here and I like the camaraderie,” noted Fr. Craig Haider, Administrator of the parishes of St. Mary-St. Charles in Cheboygan, St. Clement in Pellston and Sacred Heart in Riggsville. “One of the things I learned through Good Leaders Good Shepherds is to be more patient with myself and that the process works.”

Fr. Joe Ortega, who serves with Fr. Haider as Parochial Vicar, echoed praise for the program adding that as a young priest it has provided insights to help him “empower the laity to be collaborative leaders in order to bring about the greater vision of the Church and the diocese.”

Fr. Sylvestre Obwaka, recently assigned to his first pastorate at St. Ignatius in Rogers City summed up the experience during the graduation ceremony. Pointing to the windows overlooking hills and trees in contrast to the paved highway on the opposite side of the building, he said, “On this side, we have the more barren area and behind us we have the street. We have been given tools to help us in our ministry to proclaim the message of Christ.  We can choose to simply take the nice road home, or we can go out and create new paths.”

The program was a cooperative effort and made possible through partial grants from the Catholic Extension Society and Catholic Leadership Institute as well as gifts to the Catholic Services Appeal. 

“I am extremely grateful to Catholic Extension and CLI,” Bishop Hebda stated.  “Without their generous support, we simply could not have undertaken this program which I truly believe will benefit the Church in the Diocese of Gaylord for decades to come.”




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