Undeniably Unique

July 21-Aug 3, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 26
Undeniably Unique
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
She is dynamic, energetic, brilliant and passionate about Christ and the Catholic Church. Dr. Elinor R. Ford uses humor, practical experience and scripture to teach those fortunate enough to be in her presence how to be effective spiritual leaders. At a week-long summer graduate class held at Le Moyne College in June, the participants, made up of priests, religious and school administrators, worked diligently to keep up with Dr. Ford’s energy while hanging on her every word.

Her students were in awe of her resumé which includes serving as the first woman superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York, appointed by Terence Cardinal Cooke; President, CEO and publisher of the William H. Sadlier Publishing Company; teacher, educational consultant and former Professor of Administration and Urban Policy at Fordham University. Dr. Ford has written many leadership, educational, mathematics, and catechetical articles, books and materials. She has conducted numerous church leadership, teacher, catechist, clergy and parish family programs throughout the world.

The Spirituality of Leadership course was the first summer institute course offered through the Catholic School Leadership component of Le Moyne College’s Educational Leadership Program. It is a visionary project to prepare Catholic school leaders for the future. “The program is a collaborative undertaking by the college and the diocese to provide tailor-made training for future Catholic school leaders,” said Father Charles Vavonese, Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools and director of the program at Le Moyne. “In a sense, it is a reflection of my own experience. After getting my degrees from Loyola University, Chicago, St. Bernard’s Seminary and Boston College and holding NYS certification in several areas, I began studying educational administration at one of the state universities. The model they used just didn’t fit.” As a result, Father Vavonese transferred to Fordham University, which was one of only a few universities at the time to have a NYS-accredited program for training Catholic school leaders. “It was the perfect fit,” he said. “The program was able to exercise our educational ministry in addition to instructing us on how to become Catholic school administrators.”

Barb Messina, principal of Most Holy Rosary School in Syracuse, said the course was a great experience – reaffirming, positive and informative. “I gained useful information about organizational structure and practices, long-range planning, personnel management and spiritual development, all in the context of Catholic education,” said Messina. One of the goals of the course was for participants to understand that the leader’s personal, ongoing, spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth affects the shape and power of each one’s spirituality or charism of leadership.

Additionally, students analyzed research with respect to Catholic schools and leadership as well as relevant Church documents in order to understand how to weave the spiritual, academic and social goals of the school into an unbroken whole. “We are here to transmit the faith to tomorrow’s men and women in such a way that it will penetrate their consciences,” said Dr. Ford. “We cannot teach religion to children by spray painting them with the Catechism. We cannot penetrate the consciousness of youth and young adults with using the methods of yesterday. If Jesus came today, you can’t tell me He wouldn’t have his laptop with Him. Laptops are the Pentecost of today. You cannot teach today’s children the way we did in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.”

Dr. Ford said that once people have the experience of Jesus Christ, they have to share their treasure. “Each one of us has been in the mind of God for eternity. We are all undeniably unique. You cannot let one person go. If one person is missing, you do not get God’s infinity. That’s where spirituality leadership begins.” Dr. Ford referred to Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book on Christian leadership, In the Name of Jesus, and explained his premise that effective leaders must possess spiritual, doctrinal and moral qualities. Summarizing Nouwen’s theories, Dr. Ford said, “First, you need to be a person of prayer. Give yourself the time and opportunity to let God talk to you. Next, you need to move from popularity to ministry. To be a leader, you have to be able to confront people and have a sense of humor. You need someone to pray with, talk situations over with. And, we need other people to challenge us to remain pure in mind, heart and body.” Finally, Dr. Ford explained that an effective leader must go from leading to being led by God.

“Power is addictive,” said Dr. Ford. “It is easier to control people than to love people. If you are a leader, you must become a theologian. Be knowledgeable in faith and reflect on your faith, scriptures and traditions. Make your decisions by using your faith.”

Messina said that Dr. Ford’s teachings had a positive effect on her own ability to lead. “I will be more attentive to my own spiritual development in order to be able to minister to the teachers and students I work with. I will be better able to identify other potential leaders and to mentor them in order to develop their leadership skills.”

Sister James Therese Downey, principal of Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School, learned from Dr. Ford that a person in a leadership position must make it a daily priority to prepare spiritually for the day. “When strengthened by that time of prayer, the principal can then go forth and minister and face the challenges that lay ahead,” she said. Sister James Therese found the course to be inspiring and recognized that Dr. Ford lives what she teaches. “She is a prayerful person, committed to the Catholic identity of our schools and enthusiastic in sharing her wisdom with those who will lead our schools in the future. I believe the program has made us aware that the Catholic identity of a school is not just about liturgy. Everyone and everything in the school is involved in it. The Catholic identity of our schools should be seen, felt and shared by all and demonstrated in the programs, activities and policies of the school.”

“The collaboration with Le Moyne has been an enriching experience for both Le Moyne and the Catholic schools,” concluded Father Vavonese. “It has been an exciting opportunity for our schools.”

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