Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Pamela Biehl was invited to share her work with The Collaborative Parish Leadership Project.
In the fall of 2019, a national project focusing on Pastoral Leaders in Catholic parishes began at Cardinal Stritch University’s St. Clare Center in Milwaukee. The Collaborative Parish Leadership Project, or CPLP as it is called, is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry Initiative. Lilly recognizes that the demands placed on Pastoral Leaders today are increasing and that the conditions in which they carry out their ministries are changing.
As a result, the purpose of this grant would be to meet with Pastoral Leaders around the country who are leading parishes without a resident priest to discover the challenges they face and how they can best address these challenges so they can thrive and not merely survive in their ministry. These gatherings would also give the Pastoral Leaders an opportunity to build networks of peers and mentors that could help guide them through those challenges and promote their growth as leaders.
Sister Marlita Henseler and I were part of the first cohort in September 2020, which followed a national survey of Pastoral Leaders conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and marked the beginning of this five year project. Because of the pandemic we had to cancel all face-to-face meetings so eight of us met on Zoom for eight sessions from July through December. During those sessions we covered topics that included role clarity, collaboration and leadership skills. They were great times of learning and discussion for us as we shared with Pastoral Leaders who served parishes from Kentucky, Nevada, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.
At the end of our sessions in December, I was invited to be one of the coordinators of the project to replace one of the team members who died in October 2020 of leukemia. Today Rich Harter along with Fr. Ken Knippel and myself continue the work on this grant begun in September 2019.
This month we will complete our online sessions with our 4th cohort that include seven Pastoral Leaders and their Sacramental Ministers. We have a closing conference planned at the end of May that will be held at the Siena Center in Racine, Wisconsin. After meeting with these 14 people online since September we are anxious to get together in person to discuss and share. Our speaker for those three days will be Fr. Thomas Sweetser, SJ, the founder and current director of the Parish Evaluation Project, established in 1973. Fr. Tom works with pastors, staffs and lay leaders through the Parish Leadership Retreat experience of spiritual growth, community-building and outreach.
I continue to be excited about this project and finding new ways to help Pastoral Leaders thrive in their ministry as they share their wisdom and insights and build supportive relationships with each other and their Sacramental Ministers. Our hope is that the fruits of this project will be shared nationally to support other Pastoral Leaders and to offer insights into better collaborative leadership so that Pastoral Leaders can truly thrive in their ministry.