Institute prepares to embark on ‘adventure’

Q&A with Institute Director Father Joseph Wahl

The following is an interview between The New Catholic Miscellany and Father Joseph Wahl, CO, director of the diocesan Institute for Parish Leadership Development.

NCM — The first classes for Course One of the Institute program are set for the week of May 3-9. What are your thoughts?

FW — I feel excited. Something envisioned in January 1995 is about to become a reality. It could not have happened without the cooperation of many people.

NCM — Which people?

FW — Bishop Thompson has been a true pastor. All parishioners who have worked so long and well at Synod Implementation, the parish priests and pastoral administrators all collaborated. The guidance of the Institute Board of Directors has been invaluable help. Those who have agreed to be faculty members and facilitators for all 20 sessions number well over 100 people. Several diocesan offices have assisted. The Curia and Chancery staff have given strong support. Everywhere I go the people express enthusiasm. I’m sure I’ve not named all I should. Here let me especially acknowledge the support of my brother Oratorians at Rock Hill.

NCM — Do you have any anxieties?

FW — A bunch of them. Hundreds of people will be going to 13 classroom sites. In each group we need a teacher and a facilitator to appear along with the people at an agreed upon time. I’m concerned that some people will have to drive some distance. There are handouts to be printed and distributed; audio visual equipment in place in working order; registration; assignments of participants; are just some of the things that need to fall into place. I am anxious of course. But I’ve learned not to worry. I put all the details into the Lord’s hands. After all it is for his honor and glory. I dismiss sayings like “The devil is in the details.”

NCM – Have you had any surprises as you try to coordinate the various aspects?

FW — Most surprises have been delightful ones such as the enthusiasm of the people. I was surprised to hear people wanted to know where classes will be held before signing up. Once I realized it was a concern, the Institute Board designated 13 sites. Pending a couple minor details, I will soon be announcing the locations — all 13 of them — where classes will be held.

NCM — Describe what you envision happening the week of May 3-9.

FW — I see groups of five or six typically going together from their parish parking lot to the place where classes are held. (Some parishes have asked for more spaces. Smaller parishes will have smaller groups, which is understandable). Spending time in the car, chatting with each other will help build community. At the class a good presentation on a specific subject will be made. There will be an opportunity for discussion. There will be prayer. Light refreshments will be provided. The groups will interact. Some will drive a few blocks, others may drive an hour or more. I wish we could avoid that, but after all, we are spread over 31,055 square miles.

NCM — What about the format?

FW — For 20 weeks of the year on one day of that week we assemble at 13 classroom sites for two-and-a-half hours. We have a specific aim for each of the 20 classes divided into eight subjects. The subjects came from the people in the Synod document. We have, in my opinion, good lesson plans and a quality faculty. We break for the summer, major holy days and holidays. We are in session just 20 weeks of the year. One session per week. The teaching is done in segments of 20 to 25 minutes. We are an adult model of learning, i.e. participative.

NCM — What about quality?

FW — We are aiming for quality. Hard work has been done to ensure it. Our faculty and facilitators are highly qualified. I am amazed at the experience of the faculty, their academic degrees, their business world experience. But we do not delude ourselves. This is a first year. We learn by doing. Evaluation will be ongoing. We know it will need to be experimental for a while. For me that is what makes this exciting. I hope the participants are on that wave length too.

NCM — Are there academic requirements?

FW — Living our baptismal call is the requirement. No college diplomas are needed. No transcript of credits are expected. While we hope to offer high quality teaching we are not going to give exams, grade, etc. Participants will earn a certificate based on attendance and the project component of the course. A parish group works for about 10 months on something they had hoped to do back home at the parish, such as form a stewardship committee, start a choir, map a parish adult education program, etc.

NCM — Where and when will all this take place?

FW — The where will be answered when we complete our consultation with pastors and principals which are generously permitting the Institute to have classes at their facilities. The when is working itself out. Some parishes have made space available three nights a week as they work around their parish schedule. For sure I can say classes will be weekday evenings. There are no weekend classes as we gather in our Churches to praise God. I understand anyone contemplating registration will ask where and when will classes be held. From the planning and implementation aspects we had to answer other questions first. What is the curriculum? What can be done in 20 weeks? Who will teach? Who will draw up lesson plans? When will teacher training take place? Which parishes can accommodate our needs? Who is going to register? How many? Where do they live? Once we have answered those questions we will unequivocally announce where and when. All these make it an adventure. Next year we will know more based on experience. For now we are sailing on uncharted waters. At least it is not boring.

NCM — Should everyone reading those sign up for Course One?

FW — Not yet! The first year is directed at those presently serving in leadership positions in parishes. We are all leaders by virtue of our baptism. But for now we can only provide for an average of six people per parish. These will carry home to their parishioners what they have learned at the Institute.

NCM — Any closing thoughts?

FW — We used to begin processions with the Latin “Procedamus in Pace” i.e. “Let us proceed in peace.” We’ve done much to provide a good pastoral learning experience. We hope to develop into even better leaders. We will learn by doing. Let’s work together. We put out trust in the Lord. If we are people of hope, we keep our sense of humor, if we give our best effort we will experience the joy that comes from being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.