Lay leaders aided by Tending the Talents program

BRAINTREE -- A group of lay Church employees have been learning more about managing their ministries.

Over the last 18 months, a class of 17 lay pastoral staff from Catholic entities of the Archdiocese of Boston has participated in Tending the Talents, a program aimed at building pastoral leadership skills.

"It's given me some strategies for working more effectively with committees so their work is clearer, more understandable, so that they can go out and accomplish something," said Mary Ellen Cassani, a member of this year's graduating class and faith formation director at St. Jerome Parish in Weymouth.

This year's class, the first in the archdiocese to participate in the program, will graduate April 5 at an afternoon ceremony at the Pastoral Center.

Tending the Talents is offered by the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), a Pennsylvania-based non-profit agency that trains and empowers Catholic pastoral leaders.

The program echoes similar themes presented in CLI's Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program offered for priests.

Melissa Squarcia, CLI's senior communications coordinator, estimated that about 1,500 priests nationwide, representing 60 dioceses, have participated in Good Leaders, Good Shepherds and about 200 people have participated in Tending the Talents.

The Catholic Leadership Institute began the forerunner to Good Leaders, Good Shepherds in 2003 and launched their Tending the Talents program two years ago. Eight dioceses, including Boston, have participated in Tending the Talents.

Tending the Talents participants attend 11 classroom sessions and complete homework exercises where they place into practice the lessons they are taught. The curriculum emphasizes leadership development in five areas -- self, one-on-one, team, group or organization and the overall Church.

Squarcia said the curriculum discusses organizational visions.

"That helps to create more vibrant faith communities that are committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ," she said.

Squarcia added that when parishes and dioceses have a clear organizational vision, it helps staff better collaborate in "building the Kingdom of God which is what ultimately we're all called to do."

Father David Couturier, the Archdiocese of Boston's Director of Pastoral Planning and liaison to the Tending the Talents program, said through participation in the workshops, participants are able to more effectively collaborate to respond to the needs of their parishes.

Attendees are helped by the focus on administration, leadership and "the dynamics of contemporary ministry," Father Couturier said.

"We're building administrative leadership capacity for all those who believe that we need greater lay involvement in leadership of parishes," he continued.

Father Couturier said the program is unique because it enrolls people who are already working in lay ministry.

"They're looking at the reality of their own parish situations and that of others," he added.

Sister Pat Boyle, the pastoral associate at St. Ann Parish in Quincy, has participated in the program and will graduate this year.

She said Tending the Talents has deepened her own self-awareness, and further fostered the importance of effective communication and utilizing the talents of others on her parish team in realizing common goals.

"I really like the fact that the program is based out of what we know were the experiences of the early Church and what we've been called to out of Vatican II -- collegiality and subsidiarity," Sister Boyle said.

"I think we're being responsive to what the Spirit is doing at this time in the Church," she also said.