Like many Catholics, Stephen Kingsbury “graduated” from CCD as a teenager, marking the end of his formal Catholic education.
Or so he thought.
As an adult, Kingsbury began volunteering at his parish, Guardian Angels in Chaska. Over the years, he became more involved at the parish — heading up the Building, Grounds and Gardens Committee; joining the Knights of Columbus; teaching confirmation classes; and occasionally conducting Word and Communion services when a priest wasn’t available.
Gradually, he transitioned from occasional volunteer to dedicated parish leader.
Kingsbury credits the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul for giving him the knowledge and the tools he needed to become an effective leader.
“The Catechetical Institute helps you put your faith into action,” said Kingsbury, who is considering pursuing the diaconate after he completes his studies at the institute in May.
Founded under the direction of Archbishop Flynn in 2008, the Catechetical Institute aims to deepen Catholics’ knowledge of the faith so they can become more competent pastoral leaders in their parishes — one of the goals Archbishop John Nienstedt has set for the archdiocesan planning process currently underway.
“We have very fine lay men and women who are serving the church in various capacities in parishes, and we have priests who are serving well and endeavoring to pastor parishes at a high level of excellence,” said Father Peter Laird, vicar general and co-chair of the archdiocesan Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning.
In setting forth this goal of competent pastoral leadership, Father Laird said, the archbishop is asking: “‘How do we continue to ensure that, moving forward, priests as well as lay leaders have the resources as well as the training and ongoing formation necessary to help them meet the needs of the church in the third millennium?’”
During a recent interview with The Catholic Spirit, Father Laird mentioned possible outcomes of the archdiocesan planning process with regard to forming competent leaders.
“One likely outcome could be a more standardized approach to ongoing formation for priests,” he said. For example, priest study days, a practice the archbishop already has begun, give priests opportunities to come together on a regular basis to examine particular topics, such as marriage or the role of the priest, Father Laird said.
“I think we also want to look at ways in which we can provide in-service for lay leaders — pastoral ministers in parishes — in a more comprehensive fashion,” Father Laird added.
“The real key going forward is finding the way in which ordained ministers and lay ministers complement one another,” he said. “They have different spheres of expertise and different responsibilities in the church, and yet the more we can leverage their complementary nature, the more the archdiocese is going to benefit.”
One effort the archdiocese has implemented to improve lay leadership in parishes is a training program for Latinos, a rapidly growing demographic in the archdiocese.
Since 2002, about 170 people have graduated from the Hispanic Leadership Development Initiative, according to Estela Manancero, archdiocesan director of Latino Ministries.
Juan Cuzco Tenezaca, director of religious education at Holy Rosary in Minneapolis, completed the program in 2004. A native of Ecuador, Cuzco Tenezaca had been working as a catechist at the parish when his pastor encouraged him to enroll in the program. He said it helped him improve his management skills, better understand cultural differences, and make connections with the larger church community.
One way the archdiocese can improve leadership in parishes is to help lay people identify their gifts, then invite them to take on leadership roles that make use of those gifts, said Jerry Roth, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Parish Leadership in Burnsville.
“Maybe that means an education process to help parishes understand how to do that, maybe it’s a sharing of success stories from parishes that have done that well so that it spurs the creativity of other parishes and other leaders,” Roth said. “It’s so critical to invite and recruit leaders of all ages.”
However, there are several challenges that the archdiocese must consider.
“Time and money are two obstacles,” Roth pointed out. “I think a third one is visibility. . . . Whatever these things are that the diocese can provide and support, will people be aware of them? How do you get the word out in an effective way?”
Another potential outcome of the archdiocesan planning process, according to planning task force member Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, CSJ, is that parishes may be required to share resources in the future. “That includes personnel,” she said.
“I think there’s going to be a real encouragement for parishes to maybe even combine some of their programs so that they have the best leadership possible for them,” Sister Mary Madonna said. “And, there’s going to be a lot of emphasis, I think, on deaneries working more closely together within their own geographic area.”
Sister Mary Madonna said the task force listened carefully to the input people provided during listening sessions held throughout the archdiocese in recent months.
“I think people should be at ease about the fact that nothing is going to happen without a lot of consideration of the cultures, the particular abilities and the individual natures of the different parishes,” she said. Catholic Spirit