Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Professional and pastoral development of priests

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The project of renewing parish life in the archdiocese has many facets. Among them is the ongoing formation and development of our priests. With the help of grants from major foundations and local donors, we have invested in a number of new initiatives aimed at encouraging and assisting our priests to develop their leadership skills, both professionally and pastorally.

The starting point for our priests is to participate in a review process through a number of surveys that involve co-workers and parishioners, as well as the priest’s own self-assessment. The focus is on gauging how the priest’s leadership is perceived by parishioners and those with whom he serves. The program, while not being an evaluation, is an opportunity for him to gain insight about his leadership style so that he can better serve and collaborate.

Specifically, the survey addresses leadership skills, such as communication, managing conflict/negotiation, bringing the best out of people, openness to learning, selecting and developing people, inspiring commitment, planning and goal setting and flexibility. It also invites comments on the priest’s ministerial competencies, such as preaching, liturgical style, pastoral care of various groups, such as women, children and the marginalized, pastoral presence and ability to teach the faith.

The data collected allows the priest to put together a growth plan and work with our staff to identify the resources needed to pursue that plan. Whenever the priest requests and is eligible for a sabbatical, the growth plan is the point of reference for designing how he will use his time away from the parish for development.

The program also provides a coach to assist a priest in an area that he finds particularly challenging, such as dealing with conflict and time management. There is also a resource for improving preaching, made available through a special grant the archdiocese has received.

Additionally, the archdiocese provides mentors to first-time pastors, including in-service sessions to prepare them to take up the challenges of leadership, not only in terms of managing the parish but also in providing pastoral care.

Recently, I visited with some of the more recently ordained priests to discuss these efforts and I encouraged them to take the long view of their ministry. It would be easy to conclude that their formation ends after four to eight years in the seminary program, but that would be a mistake. Each priest must look for ways to develop and grow. Failure to do so most often results in becoming bored with life and ministry, and losing the excitement that originally prompted the vocation to serve as a priest.

I urged them to embrace lifelong learning and see this program as a gift. Rather than viewing it as a critical evaluation of their performance, I asked them to see this as an expression of the church’s desire to invest in their future in a way that will bring satisfaction for years to come. These resources are designed to assist each of them as they discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They also have the promise of deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ on a daily basis through prayer and study, as well as through significant spiritual encounters with the people of God, who help form them as priests.

From the earliest days of the church, the disciples of Jesus have understood the need to develop and grow in ministry. In his last pastoral letter, St. Paul writes these words to his young co-worker, Timothy, which continue to inspire us in our day: “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power, love, and self-control.”


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