New initiative builds pastoral leaders at McGrath Institute

By William Schmitt

Strong FoundationsStrong Foundations

A group of young lay professionals serving Catholic diocesan ministries around the country will attend a unique conference on the University of Notre Dame campus this summer. They will begin a wide-ranging program to prepare them for robust careers of service and to meet an urgent need for a next generation of national leadership in the Church.

The fifteen conference participants, selected as promising representatives of a faith-filled talent pool for the future of Catholic ministry in the United States, constitute the first cohort in the Strong Foundations for Pastoral Leaders program, conducted by the McGrath Institute for Church Life.

Funded by a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the program addresses an emerging challenge for national Catholic organizations and diocesan offices: Their leadership teams are approaching retirement even as they seek to serve God’s people better amid the complex demands of management in ministry.

“The Church needs to capture the talents of more lay people,” said Katherine Angulo, program director for the McGrath Institute’s Thriving in Ministry Initiative, which is launching Strong Foundations for Pastoral Leaders. Thousands of service-minded individuals with an array of skills and sensibilities, drawn from the country’s diverse Catholic population, are needed without delay, Angulo said.

One example of the challenge: The average age of directors of religious education (DREs) in the U.S. is 71.

The Strong Foundations program will provide a unique combination of professional and pastoral development for the 15 participants. In addition to the one-week conferences they will attend over two consecutive summers, the cohort members, already emerging as leaders in Church positions, will gain from mentorships spanning a couple of years.

They will tap into the experience of dedicated mentors matched with their ministry demands and career plans. These guides with specialized knowledge, stepping forward from a number of national Catholic organizations which have partnered with the McGrath Institute for this program, will advise the participants, who are generally in their late 20s or early 30s. This senior-level accompaniment will assist the relative newcomers, already educated for their roles but lacking the full array of capabilities suited to Church leadership.

The knowledge base to be developed will range from administrative and managerial responsibilities, such as financial and legal insights, to areas of pastoral concern and formation, according to Angulo. Participants will also be mentored in developing their own plans for a rising, sustainable career in ministry.

“Our hope is that these candidates, in a decade or so, will be among the executive directors of major Catholic organizations,” Angulo said. The cohort was selected from a number of young laypeople whose strong potential has been noted in their dioceses, including missionary dioceses hungry for resources. The program’s selection process also takes into account the need for communities and cultures constituting the diverse Church population to be represented by tomorrow’s leaders.

Angulo expressed the McGrath Institute’s gratitude for the Lilly Endowment support, which allows for this program to be offered free of charge to those selected. Over time, the two years of mentorship and broad learning will flesh out best practices for preparation that can be passed along to dioceses and organizations who can then, in turn, implement these strategies as they form their own future leaders, she said.

A second endeavor of the Thriving in Ministry Initiative, also conducted by the McGrath Institute with generous Lilly Endowment support, already provides diocesan priests with summertime sessions on the Notre Dame campus. This Bishop D’Arcy Program in Priestly Renewal helps clergy flourish so they can lead their congregations more effectively.