CHE, Seton Hall launch Ministry Leadership Academy

March 15, 2011

Program aims to make the Gospel a touchstone for executive decisions

In early April, a group of internal candidates for Catholic Health East's top positions will gather on a wooded estate near Philadelphia to ponder the stewardship ahead.

CHE has carefully chosen the first 18 candidates and the curriculum they will undertake. But rather than conduct a traditional company program, it has hired Seton Hall University's Center for Catholic Studies as a partner to provide the fresh air — and challenge — of outside expertise and insight.

Msgr. Richard Liddy, who runs the university center, has a simple opening question about CHE's heritage: "So what were those nuns up to in the first place?"

The two-day opening retreat is the beginning of CHE's Ministry Leadership Academy, a development program for senior leaders in line for top jobs in corporate management and hospital operations.

CHE is cosponsored by nine religious congregations and Hope Ministries, a public juridic person. Like other Catholic health systems, CHE has internal programs for leadership formation in the goals and traditions of Catholic health care. The system took the unusual step of partnering with a Catholic university to develop this program for top leadership to encourage candidates to think outside the familiar.

"Someone from the outside can challenge assumptions about the way things are," said Anita Jensen, CHE's vice president for leadership formation. "In any organization, there are things that people believe 'can't work'' or 'can't happen here.' We have to challenge every assumption we have in the environment of health care reform."

Integrated learning
Msgr. Liddy and associates are glad to oblige. The Center for Catholic Studies, on Seton Hall's campus in South Orange, N.J., exists to bring Catholic intellectual tradition to the hustle of contemporary secular culture. Working with him in the CHE formation program will be members of the university faculty who specialize in health law, health administration, theology and business.

The opening retreat and follow-on sessions will be at the Villanova University Conference Center, a mansion on an estate about six miles from CHE's headquarters in suburban Newtown Square, Pa. The schedule for the candidates ranges from cooking together to the introspective work of examining why they got into Catholic health care.

For each group entering the Ministry Leadership Academy, the program will last two years and include the opening retreat, five more two-day training sessions, required readings, theological reflections, internet dialogues, and short and longer-term assignments to broaden their exposure to different aspect of the ministry. The next group will be formed in 2012 and a third the following year.

Penetrating silence
Msgr. Liddy frequently conducts sessions for business people from New York City and other pressure-cooking corporate environments. He said one of the biggest challenges for them is to stop, say nothing and simply reflect.

"If you're always running, you adopt the assumption of the runners around you," he said. "You forget who you are, where you came from, your Creator. I've had top business people say the best thing they'd had in months is an enforced five minutes of silence."

For the general business world, the Center for Catholic Studies seeks "to move the assumptions from just the stockholders to all the stakeholders — the community and the customers," Msgr. Liddy said. For people in Catholic health care, the extra challenge is to stay true to the compassionate vision of the founding religious orders.

"Transforming health care is a major challenge," Msgr. Liddy said. "It's a big operation, impacted constantly by all that's going on in the culture. The nuns brought health care to the poor for the sake of the Gospel. How do we replicate this?"

Succession planning
Jensen said CHE selected the candidates for its Ministry Leadershp Academy through a careful process intended to groom the next generation of top leadership for the health system. CHE has 54,000 employees in 11 Eastern states.

"We know the leadership roles that we'll be filling in the next three to five years, and our purpose is to prepare the academy participants for those challenges," Jensen said.

Judith M. Persichilli, CHE's president and chief executive, said the point of the Ministry Leadership Academy is to develop "experienced, strong, mission-driven leaders who embrace our vision, values and culture." Jensen calls it a "succession planning initiative."

Jensen works on the academy curriculum with Sr. Mary Persico, IHM, who is CHE's executive vice president for mission integration. They sought proposals from several Catholic universities. Jensen said they chose Seton Hall because its program can present "transformational, operational and ministry leadership in an integrated fashion throughout all the learning experiences that are part of the two-year program. We think it's much more powerful to have an integrated curriculum rather than a linear or sequential delivery of content."

"Who are you?"
Jensen said the academy is intended for candidates to top jobs in headquarters and regional leadership, including hospital chief executives. Seton Hall's participation means that graduates can be certified by the university in health care leadership.

"These candidates have all been exposed to the fundamentals," Jensen said. "This isn't about new information. This is about leaders taking what they know and internalizing it into their identity and daily decision making so that Catholic identity explicitly informs the ministry's life and directs its daily operations."

Msgr. Liddy said he wants to get there by having the candidates talk about themselves — and listen carefully to what they are saying. "Some of the best questions are things like, 'Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you end up in this health care thing?'" he said. "And, the big one, 'What does the world need that you in Catholic health care can give?'"

"These people are practitioners, doers and shakers," Msgr. Liddy said. "If we remind them to always be reflective, we get to the point of all this."


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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