He will challenge leaders to extend response further: Parish Leadership Day is Feb. 18

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, February 12, 2012

When Jesuit Father James Gartland takes the podium at Parish Leadership Day Feb. 18 to speak about the call to Christian leadership, he knows he will have an audience full of men and women who have heard and responded to that call.

His job, he said, is to challenge them to extend their response even further.

“I will tell them that they are there on that day because God wants them to be there,” he said. “We are all here in this world because God wants us to be here, because God loves us.

Gartland, president of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Prep, will offer the keynote talk in English and Spanish, sharing scriptural insights and personal stories on the theme.

The 1,500 expected participants are mostly members of parish pastoral and finance councils or other parish organizations. They come to pray together, to learn at dozens of workshops in English, Spanish and Polish, and to connect with other Catholics in similar positions at other parishes.

This year’s offerings have a special emphasis on ministry to young people, as part of Archdiocese of Chicago’s Year of Teens and Young Adults. That will be the theme of the lunchtime question- and-answer sessions with Cardinal George, and several workshops during the day are geared toward young people who have taken on leadership roles within their parishes.

Gartland has special experience in that area, having undertaken the original feasibility study that led to the creation of Cristo Rey in 1996. The school was created to serve Latino families who could not otherwise afford a Catholic education for their children. Students contribute to paying the cost of education by working at a corporate internship one day a week, gaining experience in the business world as well as helping to finance their education.

But working hard to get an education is not enough, Gartland said. The school encourages all of its students to be “men and women for others,” serving their own communities.

“My ideal student — and we have a lot of them — is a student that is a catechist in their own parish,” said Gartland. “We could always have more.”

He emphasizes the need for service because people who receive gifts should share them, he said.

“We all know that blessings are meant to be shared,” he said. “That’s the way love works.”

Chicago-area parishes and their members are obligated to share their own blessings not only within the parish or within the church, but within the wider community and world, he said.

“There are so many justice issues right here,” he said. “We have places where children can’t play outside because the streets are not safe. What are our parishes doing about that?”

People in Chicago also can see and respond to the needs of people around the world more easily than ever before, he said.

In addition to his work at Cristo Rey, Gartland taught at Loyola Academy and in Peru and served as pastor of St. Procopius Parish in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood for five years.