Professional development grows at Summer Institute

Story By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Photo Courtesy Loyola University New Orleans

“Move from the basement to the balcony, pull your talents up … Build to the future.  … Name your strengths, claim your strengths and aim to use your strengths to enhance your life and the lives of others,” were messages heard by 70 Catholic educators at the 12th annual Summer Institute for Catholic Educational Leadership held at Loyola University New Orleans.

The theme of this year’s institute was “Leadership Strengths.”

Co-sponsors were the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Office of Catholic Schools and Office of Religious Education, the Loyola Institute for Ministry (LIM) and the Catholic Community Foundation (CCF).

Institute participants heard from Leisa Anslinger, a nationally known speaker, author and pastoral life director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and CCF’s Susie Veters, who explained a team-building program called “StrengthFinders,” which helps individuals discover their strengths and the strengths of others to lead “effective Catholic programs in Catholic education and formation,” said Tom Ryan, Ph.D., director of LIM.

Martha Mundine, associate superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said the effectiveness of collaboration increases when leaders receive input from people with varying strengths.

“As leaders, we want to have others on our teams that have strengths we don’t necessarily have so that things can be examined and decisions made using many perspectives,” Mundine said. “Utilizing the strengths of many helps to build a dynamic spiritual leadership core as well. The Institute each year provides opportunities for participants to enrich their spiritual leadership by nurturing and developing those skills. Each leader takes  various (lessons from the Institute) and uses what has been learned in different ways.”

The Institute’s broader focus

The Institute has evolved from including only Catholic school educators to being open to all Catholic educators, including directors of religious education programs in parishes.

And, last summer, the Institute shifted its focus to spiritual leadership among Catholic educators with the theme of “Journey of Spiritual Leadership.” 

This year’s speakers – Anslinger and Veters – presented “StrengthsFinders” to help participants recognize and develop their own strengths and draw out strengths in others to bring about better collaboration and more effective Catholic education and formation.  

“(It was) a very practical way to get to know yourself and, in doing that, getting closer to God, who made you so special,” said Claudia Todaro, religious education director at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Metairie.

“Leisa and Susie allowed us to become aware of the unique creations we are and how God gave us stewardship of special strengths to complete our mission for him,” she added. “Confirming my strengths gave me courage to evangelize. It was like God saying, ‘Here child, these are some extra gifts from me for your journey on earth.’ 

“Once you realize that these are gifts from your maker, you become a more focused steward and share your strengths with others and become a better team player, since you know the best you have to offer and appreciate the strengths of others that may be at the bottom of your strength list! You are courageous to share yours, but humbled to listen to others. This creates harmony and peace.”

Willie Glaze Jr., director of religious education, lector coordinator and assistant with Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at St. Augustine Parish, has attended the conference for two years. He said he’s gained practical tips he can use in his parish.

”This year’s Leadership Conference was spectacular,” Glaze said, citing the Gallup-Clifton StrengthsFinder.

Glaze said the survey prompted participants to identify “your five highest strengths, ranked in order from one being your strongest strength.”

He said the strengths exercise “sets you up for success in your career as well as with your lifestyle and interactions with others.  It actually affects how you work and how you respond to others. ”

Glaze identified his five strengths as:

• Strategic (making sense of seemingly unrelated information and reconfiguring factual information and developing a plan);

Responsibility (take ownership of what I say or do, and commit to stable values);

• Consistency (instinctively determined to deal evenhandedly with individuals, aiming to be consistent);

Maximizer (actively seek opportunities to work independently because you can accomplish goals with your natural abilities);

• Communication (capable of putting friends, co-workers, and strangers at ease quickly, plainspoken approach enhances their understanding).

“For me, my strengths are exactly who I am as an individual … and definitely come into play in my roles at St. Augustine and in my life. …  Knowing my strengths has made me more polite and respectful of others in the work place and in my everyday life. A takeaway from the conference is this quote from St. Francis de Sales: ‘Be who you are and be that perfectly well.’”

Parish and school catechetical leaders and school principals who attend the Institute can receive educational credits from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The institute ended with a Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri.

“More than anything, this is a good opportunity for people in leadership ministry to network and collaborate on ways to enrich their own spiritual leadership,” Mundine said. 

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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