Seven Survival Skills for Catholic School Leaders

Article excerpt

As lay men and women assume roles of leadership, they need pastoral skills that will help them in their work

In a Catholic School Leadership class, students write case studies drawn from real life experiences. The dilemmas are not simply about making good decisions; they incorporate strategies related to a pastoral style from the Gospel. Among the cases are teenage pregnancy, taking money with strings attached, doling out consequences for plagiarism and turf battles with CCD students using the school. These all demand pastoral skills and sensitivities that are animated by the teachings and example of Jesus.

Pastoral theology could be defined as the art of applying theological principles to real life situations, e.g., what does the Incarnation of Jesus demand in my treatment of others? Pastoral skills are not to be confused with being a sycophant or a doormat.

Not infrequently, people manipulate those in helping professions into guilt feelings. Many have heard lectures on patience, charity and compassion from those who owe tuition but are somehow able to finance spring breaks to snorkel in Belize or make a case for forgiveness and mercy to miscreants. Aggravating situations come in a variety only found in the cereal aisle of your local market.

Catholic education leaders no longer can give their problems to sister or wait for monsignor's Solomonesque wisdom. As competent lay men and women assume roles of leadership, they need pastoral skills that will help them in their work. People will be turning to those dealing directly with their children for pastoral advice. Pastoral skills often are related to problem solving because there are very few perfect Catholics who fit Neoplatonic ideals. How do you counsel students with parents who are divorced or remarried or living outside the norms of the Catholic Church? As professionals, you should know the church's official teachings, but how do you translate these for people whose situations do not conform to recipe solutions?

Catholic school leaders often deal with weary grandparents raising small children or same-sex couples who are using the parish school but are ostracized by other parents-with both claiming Gospel values for their decisions. Issues of diversity demand knowledge of many cultures and religions.

Teachers and administrators engage in counseling, both formal and informal, raising issues of confidentiality. This does not mean priests will be out of jobs, but the insights of scholars like Peter Steinfels and Father Andrew Greeley point to the urgency for the laity to step forward and exercise leadership gifts bestowed at baptism and confirmation.

One can get a degree or certificate in pastoral ministry from Catholic universities or diocesan centers, but no amount of coursework fully prepares one for the situations that will be faced. Many pastoral skills are learned the hard way and cannot be gleaned from a text, but here are seven skills that can form your attitudes and pastoral strategies. Though not complete, the adoption of a few new strategies can make a big difference in job performance and satisfaction.

Pastoral Skill 1: Love the Sourballs

Consider the faculty and staff at your school. Among them is Rachel, who could be described as a perpetual sourball, a gloomier version of Eyeore. The church was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. The school children were too loud on the playground and not well behaved at Mass. Rachel actually enjoys poor health and this condition shades her attitude toward life. One dreads the days that require spending time with her. She responds to comments about the beautiful weather with alerts that rain and flooding would soon follow, or this was the anniversary of her second husband's death.

One can choose to make a game of this situation rather than get annoyed. Strive to greet this person with joyfulness, just to see how she or he will counter it with doom and gloom. …

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