By Tim Johnson
DONALDSON — Nineteen priests from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend recently completed classes with intense training offered through the Catholic Leadership Institute’s Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program.
The training began in November of 2012 and spanned for six modules or sessions over the course of 18 months. Also included were one-day sessions in between each of the modules for a total of 29 training days.
The priest graduates include Father Andrew Budzinski, Father Daniel Chukwuleta, Father Stephen Colchin, Father Matthew Coonan, Father Terrence Coonan, Father Andrew Curry, Father Dan Durkin, Father Lourdino Fernandes, Father Jason Freiburger, Father Pius Ilechukwu, Father Fernando Jimenez, Father Glenn Kohrman, Father Bill Kummer, Father Bob Lengerich, Father Jacob Meyer, Father Ben Muhlenkamp, Father David Ruppert, Father Tom Shoemaker, Father Tony Steinacker and Father Dave Voors.
Father Bill Dickinson is the vice-president for Episcopal and Client Services for the Catholic Leadership Institute, and he was responsible for managing the implementation and delivery of Good Leaders, Good Shepherds in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The Catholic Leadership Institute is a not-for-profit apostolate that provides world-class leadership formation, training and consulting to the Roman Catholic community nationally and internationally, Father Dickinson told Today’s Catholic.
“Good Leaders, Good Shepherds supports the Governing Office of the ordained Priesthood,” Father Dickinson said. “The Governing Office is the leadership office associated with Holy Orders, and parish life and ministry. Thus, we have been providing pastoral and priestly leadership training to the participating priests of Fort Wayne-South Bend.”
“Our mission, in part, is to set them up for sacred success as they become ever more confident and competent in their own leadership skills and practices in service to both the people of the parish and the parish overall,” Father Dickinson said.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who is a member of the Episcopal board of the Catholic Leadership Institute told Today’s Catholic, “I think it is the best program in the country in helping priests in leadership skills and abilities as shepherds according to the mind of Christ.”
“I was happy that we could offer this excellent program to our priests,” he said. “The priests have shared with me how beneficial the program has been for them. I was really happy to see how much they appreciated the sessions as well as the priestly fraternity during their days together. I know this will bear much good fruit in the lives of our priests and in their leadership of our parishes.”
Father Dickinson said, “Bishop Rhoades wanted to provide a sustainable as well as fraternal professional development opportunity for these men — his priests. The bishop’s clear support reflects his care and love for his priests and the parishes entrusted to their care. We, too, are very proud of and happy for these men. And, we are grateful to the bishop for his own leadership with the men and as he serves on our Episcopal Advisory Board.”
Father Bill Kummer, administrator of St. Joseph-Hessen Cassel Parish in Fort Wayne, said, “By the gift of ordination to the Priesthood, we ordained share in the ministry of the bishop, indeed, with Christ Himself. We are to teach, sanctify and to govern in the Church. Good Leaders, Good Shepherds provides a priest with a set of tools that make the ministry of governance more manageable.”
“This training,” he said, “… has helped me to be more aware of types of persons in the Church, and to better use practices for calling together people into various teams and committees and councils in the parish. It enriches the teaching and sanctifying, but most of all, this experience helps us, me, to better manage myself and the organizations of the parish.”
Father Dickinson said of the priests in the program, “We saw growth and excitement; we experienced gratefulness and pastoral application.”
“The men in Fort Wayne-South Bend have been just excellent in their participation and in their expression of how they are able to apply their learned leadership skills to parish life,” Father Dickinson said. “They are a fraternal, supportive group of men who clearly respect each other and love the people of God they serve.”
Father Andrew Curry, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine in North Manchester and St. Francis Xavier in Pierceton, said the top thing he learned was “leading people is all about forming a team or a group that journeys to excellence, and that for an effective team, we need people of many different temperments.”
Father Jason Freiburger, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle, Elkhart, said, “I learned how to work effectively with teams. … There are tools available to help navigate different situations that arise that can help anyone be a more effective leader.”
“The top thing that I learned was to understand my parish’s vast needs and identifying key individuals who can help me lead and direct the whole congregation in the direction Christ is calling us,” said Father Tony Steinacker, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Goshen.
Another strength of the program was the sense of fraternity. “For me the best part of the training was to learn together. There are 19 brothers with which I have a connection that in certain circumstances I can trust and learn from them,” said Father Kummer.
“The fraternity that developed among the priests’ part of this cohort of Good Leaders, Good Shepherds was priceless,” said Father Freiburger. “We bonded by working through together some of the questions and challenges that we have faced in ministry in the parish and beyond. Celebrating our completion of the program with our bishop and recalling all the knowledge gained and realizing our capability to implement it was a good feeling of confident assurance.”
Father Kummer said, “I plan to use this experience for the rest of my ministry by following the leadership skills I have learned, and to further my learning by sharing and refining my goals with other priests, and to ask my parish to use better organizational tools so that we move ahead and grow in faith and love. We shall not be stuck, but will find a path of growth and faith.”
Father Steinacker said the highlights continue. “Our learning has not ended. Nor has the fruits of our learning.”
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