CHA offers professional development, community-building program for formation leaders

May 1, 2023

Editor's note: The Formation for Formation Leaders program will not be offered this fall as originally planned.

Based on member feedback and needs, the CHA team is working to reconfigure the program to provide engaging professional development and establish a dynamic community of practice for leading ministry formation in the future. CHA will share details about changes to the program as they become available.


For the spirit and culture of the ministry to flourish, the people who make up the ministry must be well-grounded in the tradition and theology of Catholic health care and be able to connect their personal vocation with their organization's mission. Formation leaders play the essential role in ensuring this grounding is done authentically and effectively, says Diarmuid Rooney, CHA's vice president of sponsorship and mission services.


To equip and support formation leaders in their crucial work, CHA is offering an in-depth professional development program called Formation for Formation Leaders. The course is open to CHA members who lead and facilitate formation programming. Participants must have a graduate degree in theology or spirituality or the equivalent combination of education and experience and they must commit to complete the entire 24-month course, among other criteria.

In addition to sharpening skill sets, the course is designed to foster lasting relationships among peer participants. Course designers hope these connections will strengthen the shared commitment to the unified mission of Catholic health care as a church ministry. The vision is that the network will constitute a "community of practice" capable of creatively leading formation into the future.


"We are better together than we are alone," says Mary Anne Sladich-Lanz, one of four seasoned formation experts on the program faculty who are intent on passing on their accumulated wisdom to the next generation of formation leaders while also learning from those participants. "We have the ability to learn from each other and to engage this community in a way that will benefit Catholic health care organizations" as well as their leaders, staff and patients, she adds. Sladich-Lanz is a formation consultant for ministry systems including Providence St. Joseph Health.

The CHA program begins in August and concludes in fall 2025. The registration deadline is June 30. The program includes four in-person and nine virtual sessions over the 24 months. CHA plans to offer the course on an ongoing basis, with up to 50 formation leaders participating in each cohort.

The curriculum covers the theological underpinnings of Catholic health care. Faculty will guide participants in exercises to deepen their individual psychological and spiritual development. They will delve into practical elements of designing formation programs for executive, professional and support staff. Course participants will have readings and reflection questions to complete before the live session and post-discussion forums for the virtual sessions. They also will have projects, practicums and a capstone project. Rooney estimates the time commitment to be about five hours per month, excluding virtual and in-person meetings.

In a 2022 CHA survey, mission leaders said formation is the competency that they most wished to improve. Rooney says ministry formation is needed throughout all Catholic health systems and facilities — including for sponsors, board members, executives and other leaders and frontline staff. In systems and facilities where there is no leader with the sole responsibility for formation, it usually falls to the mission leader to shape and present formation programming.

"Ministry formation is the cultural catalyst of Catholic health care and it's the essence of what keeps us unique and distinct in all of health care," says Rooney. "If we don't have enough people properly trained to do formation, the implications are vast."


Generational change
In addition to Rooney and Sladich-Lanz, program faculty include Celeste Mueller, ministry formation and leadership consultant with Vocare Partners; and Stephen Taluja, chief sponsorship and ministry formation officer for Bon Secours Mercy Health.


Taluja says many seasoned ministry leaders who had developed a proficiency in formation are retiring, so there is some urgency to preparing those who will take on the formation responsibilities.

Mueller says, "we really want to secure the knowledge, wisdom and practices we've gained" for future formation leaders.

Mueller believes Formation for Formation Leaders will increase the professionalism and the level of excellence in ministry formation practice.

Emerging discipline
Rooney says contemporary ministry formation is a nascent but quickly growing discipline in its own right. Taluja adds that universities don't offer courses in the nuts and bolts of formation programming. In addition to having theological grounding, to be effective, formation leaders must tend to their own spiritual development and have the empathy and skill to guide others in this type of personal discovery.

Formation for Formation Leaders builds upon work CHA and a 13-person committee completed in 2019 to define ministry formation and set out competencies for formation professionals. They wrote CHA's "Framework for Ministry Formation" booklet and generated other tools for formation programming. The four faculty for Formation for Formation Leaders were on the committee.

CHA's Ministry Formation Advisory Council continues to inform the development of the resources and content that the framework outlines.

Visit to learn more about the program and register. The fee of $5,500 per participant covers all materials as well as accommodations and meals for the in-person sessions.


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