Inaugural ‘Good Leaders, Good Shepherds’
program lauded by graduates

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — It was a little less than one year ago when a group of priests from the Diocese of Fall River accepted the invitation of Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., to attend a “Good Leaders, Good Shepherd” program, aimed at helping priests meet and overcome the challenges facing the Church today, particularly in parish life — challenges, many of which didn’t exist only a few decades ago.

The program, which is more similar to a retreat than a workshop learning session, is the brainchild of the Catholic Leadership Institute based in Wayne, Pa.

On its website, the Institute says the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program “is designed just for priests, so each learning module [of which there are six] includes ample time for prayer, Liturgy, and building priestly fraternity. All sessions are highly interactive, pastoral, and relevant to the vocation of priestly life and day-to-day pastoring.”

It further states, “Priests can minimize the frustration and energy that they spend on their administrative roles, and instead, maximize the joy and time spent on the pastoral duties for which they were uniquely ordained.

“Our mission is to help strengthen priestly identity, ministry, and fraternity. We believe this happens best when priests take time for themselves — in the company of one another — to learn, pray, socialize, and look to the future with hope.”

Bringing the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program into the Fall River Diocese was part of Bishop da Cunha’s “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope” initiative to make the diocese stronger and more unified in the years to come.

In his “Introducing Strategic Planning” publication, the bishop stressed the need to restore support for the clergy.

Bishop da Cunha brought up the topic at a priests gathering at Stonehill College last year and 19 diocesan priests and two order priests jumped on board for the inaugural sessions.

There were seven sessions spread out over the year, each being three or four days. Six were held at Miramar Retreat Center in Duxbury and one at La Salette Retreat Center in Attleboro.

“I was glad to work this out with the Christian Leadership Institute,” Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor. “I was pleased there was enough interest and we had benefactors to make it happen. It all came together beautifully.”

The bishop recently handed out certificates to the first graduates of what turned out to be a very successful venture.

Father Craig A. Pregana, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James Parish in New Bedford, was one of the grads. “In this parish setting with multi-culture and multi-language, the course helped me to understand that there isn’t a ‘boilerplate’ style of leadership that works in all circumstances,” he told The Anchor. “I need to use a variety of skill sets in dealing with the different communities in order to call forth the best leaders with whom I can collaborate in striving toward a common vision for the parish.

“The course gave us concrete tools that we can use now as the diocese moves forward in its strategic pastoral planning.

“I feel better enabled to look at the challenges we face as a multi-cultural parish and collaborate with parish leaders in creating a pastoral vision that helps the diocese to live its mission.”

Msgr. Stephen J. Avila, pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in East Falmouth was one of several “senior” priests who opted to take the course. In comments he shared with The Anchor, he quipped, “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Bishop da Cunha for bringing this program to our diocese and for not thinking of me as too old to participate in it.”

On a more serious note he said, “As you know, I often quote Cardinal Sean [O’Malley] when he used to say about us priests: ‘We are brothers, but we are not twins.’ This time together has underscored both. Indeed we are not twins. Our leadership skills, talents, gifts and weaknesses are as varied as all of us here. We have been challenged this year to discover our own instinctive behavior, and the values that modify them. And then to go into our parishes and recognize and discover the diversity of the DISCS [an abbreviation for a variety of behavioral traits] and talents of our pastoral teams and how most effectively to work together. I think the same can be said in bringing the knowledge we have obtained over this past year at Good Leaders, Good Shepherds to work together effectively for the good of our diocese, for indeed we are brothers.”

Father Christopher M. Peschel is one of the younger priests to attend, having been ordained in 2014. He is parochial administrator of St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Attleboro, which also includes St. John the Evangelist School. “The final session revolved around creating strategic alliances, which in a time in the Fall River Diocese where collaboration between parishes seems to be a focal point, only helps to strengthen our bishop’s call to work together,” he told The Anchor. “As a parish priest already responsible for two parishes and a school I really like the idea of effective collaboration and alliances. Good Leaders, Good Shepherds helped to assess the mission and values of differing organizations to ensure that a strong alliance would even be possible. 

“I think the Catholic Leadership Institute and the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program helped to refocus all of us who participated on those three duties, but especially the one which may not have received a great deal of attention in seminary, ‘to govern.’ Part of the priest’s job, indeed a key duty and responsibility, is the governance and administration of things and Good Leaders, Good Shepherds certainly helped with increasing understanding of the priests necessary governance in the temporal realm. Things ranging from human resources, to team and committee formation, to forming alliances with other parishes and organizations were all covered in great detail over the six modules that brought us together.”

“I think this will be a benefit to those who attended and to the diocese as a whole,” added Bishop da Cunha. “These men can bring ideas and learned experiences and share them with others.”

The bishop told The Anchor that at the end of the month there will be a debriefing with those who attended to “share what they learned. It’s good to share and to put things into practice. The men had very positive experiences from what they learned. It was worth the time they put in, time that is very valuable to them.

“Priests need to be updated, need to continue their formation to be the best priests they can be. I’m very happy that we undertook this project.”

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