success stories

Virtues for Parish Leadership

By Father Eugene Hemrick

When I was asked to speak on the anatomy of a parish at the November meeting of the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators in Denver, my first inclination was to review important statistics that reflect the state of the parish. But it struck me that we need to go beyond statistics in trying to understand today's parish. I wanted to evaluate it through the eyes of virtue.

When we do this, we end up with questions such as how prudently those in parish leadership act and what virtues they rely on most to create esprit de corps.

To employ this novel approach, we might start by reading the books of Wisdom and Proverbs where virtues such as prudence and understanding are praised as the heart of a wisdom community. Next we need to study the fine points of virtues in the works of such scholars as St. Thomas Aquinas, Romano Guardini and Josep Pieper.

Let's look at examples of how a virtue -- prudence, for example -- helps us to pinpoint the roots of success in church administration.

Imprudence is one of the common stumbling blocks in church administration. One way to avoid imprudence is to make sure that all the possible circumstances of an issue or situation are studied thoroughly so that sound judgments are possible.

Prudence is a virtue that encourages us to practice docility and to avoid being a know-it-all.

Among parish administrators who have ministered in a parish or diocese for a length of time, there is the ever-present temptation to feel they know all there is to know about that parish or that diocese. This can lead to a common-sense approach that pre-empts a disciplined method of ascertaining facts.

Prudence would suggest to a parish with a growing multicultural population: "Don't rely on feelings you get from Sunday liturgy attendance. Conduct a survey to learn firsthand about the growing number of diverse cultures within your boundaries! Look for distinctiveness in your parishioners through those numbers. If you have a growing Hispanic population, you may find they're not all Mexican-Americans, or Puerto Ricans. There may be many parishioners from Central America who are falling through the cracks. Locating and reaching out to them can be the Catholic moment of your administration."

Decisiveness is another attribute of prudence. Once the evidence is in, prudence implores us to act "quickly."

Procrastination and indecision are the opposites of decisiveness and are leading frustrations in church ministry. How many times has good evidence been gathered that calls for quick action in a parish or diocese, and nothing happens? When people are left suspended in mid-air, frustration and anger quickly set in.

The practices of church administration often resemble those of the business world. At the same time, church administration is unlike administration in the business world in that it is a religious function, requiring religious standards. I recommend looking to the sacrament of confirmation, which implores us to make the practice of virtue the ultimate criterion of human success.