Boston priests commit to become ‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’

BOSTON -- As part of their ongoing formation, two dozen Boston priests committed themselves last October to the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program, designed to help priests lead more effectively, particularly in the face of the shrinking number of clergy.

A second wave of the local program will begin in October 2008, and an informational session with the Catholic Leadership Institute’s national director of the program, Father Bill Dickinson, will be held at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton on April 25.

Father William Kelly, director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Office for Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation, said the “high quality program” merges Catholic theology with the best in leadership training.

“It is very much geared towards the priest’s parish experience,” he said. “I hope that it will make them more confident in their leadership role as shepherds.”

The Good Leaders, Good Shepherds curriculum consists of numerous three-day and half-day conferences held throughout a two-year period and is equivalent to a master’s program though no formal degree is awarded. The training consists of five parts, beginning with a unit on self-preparation for leadership. Then, the priests branch out, learning how to work more efficiently one-on-one, with a team, in an organization and with several organizations, he said.

The tuition for the program is paid for by the priest, the place he works -- usually his parish -- and through generous donations from local benefactors, Father Kelly said.

The nationwide program was designed five years ago to help Catholic clergy facing a shortage of priests and, therefore, more responsibilities. Father Kelly and four other Boston priests participated in New England’s pilot program two years ago, he said.

Father Brian Flynn, member of the team ministry at St. Edith Stein Parish in Brockton, said the program has been a large but worthwhile commitment. The program has given him tools to help in his ministry, including how to work with different personalities, manage his time and better prioritize.

“We are being stretched and asked to do more and more because of the shortage of priests out there,” he said.

Father Kelly said the program assists priests in their ongoing formation and has the strong support of Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley.

Father Kelly noted that the cardinal stressed the importance of priestly ongoing formation at this year’s Chrism Mass -- at which the sacramental oils for the coming year are consecrated -- on March 18.

“Ongoing formation is key in building a united presbyterate, I am convinced,” the cardinal said at the Mass. “Our ongoing formation should help us in developing a common vision that can inspire and inform our pastoral approach and allow us to grow closer to one another.”

Each year, all the priests in the archdiocese are invited to the celebration, which traditionally has more concelebrants than any other Mass. Cardinal O’Malley also exhorted Boston priests to work together and “be men of communion.”

The Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program is also an opportunity for priestly fraternity and for the presbyterate to be involved in a common venture, Father Kelly said. Father John Currie, parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Norwood, said he enjoys learning alongside the priests of various backgrounds and ages who are participating in the local program. Participating for him was a “no-brainer,” he said.

“It’s a real complement to our seminary formation,” he said. “I am already seeing how it can be a great benefit in a parish setting.”

Father Currie added that the program has allowed him to work on his leadership skills by providing feedback that is both confirming and challenging.

“I would encourage all of my brother priests to seriously consider enrolling in the program,” he said.