Leaders of Catholic sponsored nonprofits, education, human service, health care and other agencies gathered April 12 at John Carroll University for the Catholic Community Connection’s 2019 symposium, “A Call to Faith Based Leadership.”
Marian Rubin, Catholic Community Connection president, offered welcoming remarks and then introduced Michael Johnson, JCU president, who shared his thoughts on inspired leadership.
“Inspired leaders lead by example, not by power or authority, and they encourage others to do the same,” he said. They create a high-powered team committed to a common goal, something St. Ignatius did. “Inspired leadership can happen anywhere,” he said. Johnson used the Labre ministry as one example. He said a student from St. Ignatius High School showed JCU students how the high school students met the homeless where they are, provided them with food, necessities and built relationships.
“That student showed us and we showed others,” Johnson said, explaining how the Labre ministry has expanded in Cleveland and now Akron, thanks to the involvement of students at Walsh Jesuit High School.
Bishop Nelson Perez also offered insight on leadership, pointing out the various types of leaders: political, business, neighborhood and family. All have their own objectives.
“But faith based leadership is different. Some call it servant leadership. For Christians, the agenda of a faith leader is the kingdom of God and our goal is to serve that,” the bishop said. The understanding of this started small, like a mustard seed. The understanding of the existence of God was shared by prophets and then Jesus – in the flesh -- became the kingdom of God. The bishop said stories were told challenging our understanding, but the kingdom spread from a small beginning.
“We want huge successes and often gauge that success by the number of attendees at an event,” he said. Bishop Perez shared the story of an event that was planned at a large arena in New Orleans. Event organizers were disappointed at the small turnout – about 200, much less than anticipated. But one religious sister put things into perspective by reminding conference organizers that Jesus told us to feed the sheep, not count them, he said.
The bishop encouraged symposium attendees to stay on message, noting that during Holy Week the tension begins to ratchet up for Jesus, yet he stays focused.
“He knows where he’s going and what’s going to happen, yet he walks with resolve and stays on message. He models the behavior that we talk about: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend,” the bishop said. “Jesus didn’t talk about giving up his life for a friend -- he did it.”
Real leaders are visionary and their vision lights hearts on fire. “That’s what a leader does,” the bishop said. “A leader sets a tone. Faith leaders set a consistent tone with what’s in their heart.”
Keynote speaker Kerry Robinson is the founding executive director and global ambassador of Leadership Roundtable, which is dedicated to promoting excellence and best practices in the management, finances and human resource development of the Catholic Church by harnessing the managerial expertise and financial acumen of senior level lay executives. Robinson is also an award-winning author and founding editor of “The Catholic Funding Guide: A Directory of Resources for Catholic Activities.”
She has served on numerous boards and committees, including the International Business Leadership Advisory Council, an initiative of the Secretariat for the Economy in Rome. Robinson also led a successful $75 million fundraising campaign to expand and endow the intellectual and spiritual ministry of the St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University and to construct a Catholic student center on the Yale campus.
She shared her experience with the Yale campaign – which was about halfway through when the clergy abuse scandal broke. Robinson also talked about hosting a three-day conference on accountability in the Catholic Church that was attended by more than 500 people. She said the consensus among attendees was that “It’s our Church and we can remain and bring it back to holiness.”
From that experience, born from love of the Church, the Roundtable evolved and became a touchstone for change in the Church, she said, adding, “It was never our intention to shame or embarrass anyone.”
Catholics in the United States are no longer solely an immigrant population, she said. “There are men and women in all levels of leadership in all types of business. She said the Roundtable does not tackle doctrinal issues and it operates with candor and charity. “Those are our ground rules,” she explained. “We speak truthfully and honestly, but with charity. And prayer has a profound role in the process.”
She said 50 bishops contacted the organization for help after last year’s wave of clergy abuse scandal.
Robinson is one of seven women who have been meeting twice yearly with Vatican officials for 11 years focusing on the role of women in the Church. She said their purpose is to build relationships and to help Church leaders better understand how women can assist in the Church’s work.
Keeping young adults engaged with the Church is crucial, Robinson said, noting that many fall away after college. She said the thought was they would return for marriage, baptism of their children or during a crisis. “But we can’t afford to lose them. That was not a good response,” she said, so a curriculum was developed that exposes young adults to a broad array of Catholic ministries and encourages them to play active leadership roles in the Church immediately after graduation including becoming involved with parish council, within their diocese, on boards, advisory councils and more. “We also encourage parish leaders to take advantage of this pool of young talent.”
Robinson said she has worked throughout her life to advance the role of the laity in the Church. She said lay people have an important role to play in fundraising.
“We need to be generous ourselves and to be a catalyst to inspire generosity in others,” she said, adding that generosity means more than just giving money.
She challenges people to presume goodness in one another, to be generous with their time and to be generous with their kind words.
“It’s not an easy time to be Catholic,” Robinson said, adding that her spiritual advisor encouraged her to remember most what she loves about the Church and then to “name it and claim it.”
Robinson reminded the group that the women at the base of the cross never looked away and that Christianity depended on the witness of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ tomb.
“The world needs what the Church has to offer at its best: hope, mercy, love, tenacity and Christ’s light, she added.
Attendees spent the rest of the day networking and in breakout sessions focusing on topics like lessons from the trenches, young adult leadership in the workplace, cultivating the spiritual life, orienting new hires to mission and being a leader in a pluralistic society.
Catholic Community Connection is an organization of Catholic sponsored education, health care, human services and senior living ministries that fosters collaboration to respond to the needs of all people within the Diocese of Cleveland.
For more information, visit CatholicCommunityConnection.org.