BY: FR. MICHAEL D. PLACE, STD
Fr. Place is president and chief executive officer,
Catholic Health Association, St. Louis.
As everyone knows, one of the critical challenges facing the
Catholic health care ministry is ensuring that it will have — as
Sr. Doris Gottemoeller said so well in her remarks to a Consolidated
Catholic Health Care meeting in February 1999 — the critical mass
of leaders possessing the "fire in the belly" (and, I would
add, the "vision in the mind") needed to thrive in the first
decades of the new millennium.
In previous columns, I have reflected on that challenge from
the perspective of leadership competencies and culture transmission.1
I also have considered sponsorship as an aspect of ministerial
leadership.2 At the same time, through the efforts
of Kate Grant and Ed Giganti and from experience gained on my
own travels, I have learned of the many significant efforts
and achievements in leadership development in the ministry at
both the system and institutional levels.* Also, over the years,
Health Progress has published many significant articles
on various dimensions of leadership development. This issue
of the journal continues that tradition.
In thinking about those many contributions to our knowledge
and experience, I have noted a lack in recent years of systematic
theological reflection on the nature or meaning of leadership
in the Catholic health care ministry. My hunch is that this
is not because we have not had a theology, but rather because
that theology had become so second nature to us that we lived
it without thinking about it. This is not unusual in the life
of the church. For example, when we go to Mass on Sunday, we
usually do not have the Council of Trent teaching on transubstantiation
in the forefront of our minds. However, if something strange
or unusual were to occur — if potato chips were brought to the
altar instead of bread, say — we might, seeking to rationalize
our resulting sense of unease, explain that this was somehow
not "Catholic." In a sense, we would be searching for a theological
reason. In other words, it is not unusual for us, in periods
of crisis or significant transition, to take the time to search
for a greater understanding or appreciation of the theological
underpinnings of a particular dimension of church life.
In this column I hope to contribute to that process of theological
analysis. I will mention several theological categories that,
I suggest, ought to illumine our understanding of leadership
in the ministry. Some I will mention only in passing and leave
till later for further exploration. Others I will engage in
more detail, albeit briefly. Finally, I will initiate what I
hope will be a ministry dialogue on the significance of these
theological themes for the selection and development of future
Leadership and Leaders
Let me begin by defining what I mean by "leaders." In a sense,
the case could be made that anyone who has managerial responsibilities
in the ministry is a leader. One also could argue that for the
necessary critical mass noted above to exist, the leadership
of which we speak will be found almost exclusively in the office
of the chief executive. To my mind, the former point of view
is too expansive and the latter, too narrow. For this article,
"leader" will refer to those people whose positions give
them either the power or the influence needed to direct or leverage
the life of an institution or organization so that it can faithfully
incarnate and perpetuate the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.
Which leads me to a second clarification. The leadership of
which this article speaks exists within, and for the explicit
purpose of carrying forward, the healing ministry of Jesus Christ
in the community of faith that is the Roman Catholic Church.
In other words, we are not talking about health care leadership
in general that just happens to occur in a Catholic setting.
We are speaking of leadership in an ecclesial ministry or, to
say it another way, ministerial leadership. Here again we might
well find a great diversity of opinion concerning which positions
in our organizations should be included in the category of ministerial
leadership. We might also debate whether a person who is not
an active Roman Catholic or, for that matter, a Christian, can
be a "ministry leader." Although I leave it to others to discuss
this neuralgic issue, I will suggest that any leadership position
that has the capacity, by virtue of its power or influence,
to significantly deflect or impede, on one hand, or significantly
focus or advance, on the other hand, the collective ministerial
mission of an organization exercises ministerial leadership,
as distinguished from leadership in the ministry.
In other words, while there are significant personal competencies
associated with successful ministry leadership, these reflections
are beginning from a more sociological or organizational perspective.
In discussing them, I assume that all positions possessing the
power or influence to significantly deflect or impede or significantly
focus or advance an organization's collective mission share
certain dynamics and criteria. This column probes the significance
for the role, and for the one who holds it, when the position
is one of ministerial leadership.
Which theological categories merit reflection here? They are
all implied by our premise that the subject of this reflection
is ministerial leadership in the healing ministry of Jesus
Christ within the community of faith that is the Roman Catholic
Church. (Clearly one could begin this reflection at various
points of our premise. And, within the premise, words can be
clustered in various ways in order to elicit analysis and reflection.
In fact, how and why one would cluster and prioritize categories
could itself be an occasion for theological reflection. We will
not pursue that opportunity here.) The four theological categories
- Ministry of Jesus Christ
- Healing ministry
- Ministry of the Roman Catholic Church
- Ministry leadership within the Roman Catholic Church.
Ministry of Jesus Christ Later we will reflect
more explicitly on the concept of ministry. At this point, however,
we are reminded that the origin and goal of ministerial leadership
is the Lord Jesus Christ, who through his death and resurrection
brought salvation to humanity. His ministry had a specific purpose
that he outlined when he made the words of Isaiah his own: "The
spirit of Lord Yahweh is on me for Yahweh has anointed me. He
has sent me to bring the news to the afflicted, to soothe the
broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, release to
those in prison, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord"
This is a ministry whose spirituality is timeless:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the
land. Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for
they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for
they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for
they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they
shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that
suffer persecution for justice's sake: for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven (Mt. 5:3-10).
This is a ministry grounded in an ethical imperative
that is remarkably simple: "Love the Lord your God with all
your mind, all your heart, all your soul, and your neighbor
as yourself" (Lk 10:25-28).
This is a ministry that was defined by a love so expansive
that its modality of service knows no boundaries:
"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life
for his sheep" (Jn 10:14-15).
This is a ministry that, in the end, was to be carried on
by others who are disciples of the same Lord: "Go, therefore,
make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them
to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with
you always; yes, to the end of time" (Mt 28:19-20).
I would suggest that if we are to truly grasp the significance
of ministerial leadership, it is imperative that we begin with
the ministry of Jesus Christ — grasp it not as an abstraction
but as a living reality whose shape and form, whose purpose,
spirituality, ethic, modality of service and discipleship we
receive and may not alter.
Healing Ministry Although much could be written
about the healing ministry (within your CHA staff, we
often speak of it having the two dimensions of service and transformation),
I will highlight only two aspects here. First, although the
Gospels are replete with healing miracles, Jesus never healed
just to heal. Jesus always healed for a purpose: to invite a
response of faith. For Jesus, healing was a window that, when
opened, revealed the face of a loving God to whom the healed
could surrender themselves. Healing did not require one to believe
(for example, the lepers who did not return), but its unmerited
graciousness invited the one healed to reconsider the very nature
of existence. Healing was the first plank of a bridge, the rest
of which was to be constructed by an act of faith so intense
it would transform the entirety of a person's very being: "Here
I am, Lord." "Be it done unto me as you will." "Lord, I am not
What this means is that the healing ministry of Jesus is never
an end in itself. It has a purpose that ultimately is salvific.
A second aspect of Jesus' healing is that it is multifaceted.
Jesus' healing addressed the human person in his or her totality
of body, mind, and spirit. In a future column I will probe this
in more detail. For now, it is sufficient to say that the healing
ministry of Jesus is about much more then healing the body.
Ministry of the Roman Catholic Church In my
November/December 2001 column, I began reflecting on the transition
that has occurred with the realization that what we are about
is, as Pope John Paul II declared, "an essential ministry of
the church."3 The context of our service is no longer
only understood as being an expression of the charismatic
or (religious life) dimension of church life. Rather, it is
also an expression of the institutional (hierarchical) dimension
of church life. As such, its ultimate point of reference is
an appreciation of being part of the communio or community
that is the church as well as sharing in the missio or
mission of the church. The church is "ordered" not for the sake
of order, but so that the mystery of communio and the
dynamism of missio might be preserved. In the end, as
our Orthodox and Eastern Catholic sisters and brothers know
so well, church is not an "it" but a mystery, a sacred icon
of God's presence and, in particular, of the dynamic activity
of the Holy Spirit. All ministries of the church are Spirit-filled
Ministry Leadership within the Roman Catholic Church
The word "ministry," as we use it, is relatively new to
the Roman Catholic lexicon. It reflects a deepening appreciation
of the significance of baptism/confirmation for the life of
the church vis-à-vis the role of the laity. The revised Code
of Canon Law summarized decades of theological reflection
and the teaching of the Second Vatican Council when it said
in Canon 204, No. 1:
"The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have
been incorporated in Christ through baptism, have been constituted
as the people of God; for this reason, since they have become
sharers in Christ's priestly, prophetic and royal office in
their own manner, they are called to exercise the mission which
God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world."
Since the Second Vatican Council, the laity have increasingly
exercised their baptismal responsibility, especially as it relates
to the public or organizational dimensions of the church's ministerial
life. In many ways, this is a "work in progress." For centuries,
leadership in the church has been directly identified with the
clergy and indirectly with religious. Obviously, both of these
required some form of a "permanent commitment" associated with
ordination or vows. Consequently, the church has no clear analogue
for the role of ministerial leadership that is not identified
with being a cleric or a religious.
Recently, some preliminary descriptions of essential dimensions
of ministerial leadership exercised by the baptized/confirmed,
based as much on reflection on lived experience as on theological
reflection, have emerged. In such cases:
- The community has affirmed its need for the leadership
- The person selected to fill the position has experienced
a personal affinity for, or "call" to service in, that role.
- The person selected has undergone the training/formation
necessary for the role.
- A church authority has formally "deputized" or "commissioned"
- The suitability of the person selected is subject to an
ongoing review/affirmation process.
Across the United States, large numbers of lay women and men
are serving in positions of ministerial leadership that incarnate
these realities. For example, at the parish level they are "pastoral
coordinators" of priest-less parishes; they are principals and
directors of religious education; they are pastoral associates
doing the ministry previously done by priest associate pastors.
At the diocesan level, they are "chancellors" (which, in many
cases, means being chief operating officers of large dioceses,
as well as small ones) and hold other significant leadership
positions that only priests or religious would have held a few
Most would agree that three of these categories (Ministry of
Jesus Christ, Ministry of the Roman Catholic Church, and Ministry
Leadership) relate to ministerial leadership in general, whereas
only one (Healing Ministry) describes the purpose of
a specific ministry. What is not clear are the practical consequences
of exercising ministerial leadership in the Catholic health
ministry in the United States. It would be helpful, I suggest,
for us to begin such a discussion.
For example, although we have had a fair amount of reflection
concerning the concrete implications of the spiritual, ethical,
and service dimensions of the Ministry of Jesus Christ, we have
had little on the consequences of discipleship. Similarly, many
have taken quite seriously being a Ministry of the Roman Catholic
Church. The significance of exercising leadership that ultimately
is to be "Spirit-filled" and "Spirit-driven" is not as clear,
however. In recent times, we have seen an increasing emphasis
on the commissioning of ministry leadership. What has not been
as clear is the role of the local church in confirming this
call. As challenging as such discussions might be, the most
difficult, I suggest, will occur when we consider the salvific
dimension of the healing ministry. What does it mean to say
that the ultimate purpose of ministerial leadership is salvific?
Does it not mean that all those who encounter or experience
the ministry in its many and diverse aspects are invited, each
in his or her own way, to experience the healing touch of ultimate
- Michael D. Place, "CHA Moves Forward on Leadership Development,
BBA," Health Progress, November-December 1999, pp.
10-11, 16, and "The Parable of the Dance," Health Progress
May-June 2001, pp. 6-7.
- Michael D. Place, "Elements of Theological Foundations
of Sponsorship," Health Progress, November-December
2000, pp. 6-10.
- Michael D. Place, "The Graying of America," Health Progress,
November-December 2001, pp. 6-8, 72
Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.