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Pastoral training goes beyond theology, as grant helps SHSST programs expand

A pastor’s work goes far beyond the spiritual shepherding of the flock, and accordingly, the Church has increased its emphasis on teaching seminarians the practical skills of parish leadership.

It’s with this need in mind that Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology (SHSST) has advanced its pastoral leadership training for seminarians, and now, thanks in part to a grant from the Catholic Community Foundation, the focus on pastoral leadership has entered a new phase at SHSST.

SHSST has instituted a five-day course called the Pastor’s Toolbox for transitional deacons in their final year of formation before their ordination to the priesthood. Pastor’s Toolbox is put on by the Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, with content delivered by leading topic experts from around the United States. It covers topics such as stewardship and communication, planning, budgeting, financial controls and risk management, physical wellness, and human resource management.

The Pastor’s Toolbox builds upon the Pastoral Administration Workshop, a four-day course on the basics of running a parish that SHSST previously offered.

The Leadership Roundtable is a network of senior level Catholic leaders – lay, religious and ordained – who collectively lend expertise in management, finances, human resource development, communications and technology to strengthen the Church and address contemporary complex temporal challenges. The Leadership Roundtable exists to strengthen the Church across its full breadth of expression.

Sacred Heart’s connection with the Leadership Roundtable led the seminary to develop plans for an even more robust pastoral formation program in the near future: Coincidentally, SHSST was the site for a Leadership Roundtable training program on leadership evaluation for new pastors and bishops-elect currently serving in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, called Catholic Leadership 360. 

“The beauty of the Catholic Leadership 360 program for me is that you have the opportunity to reflect on your own life and ministry and see a comparison to what others see in you,” said Milwaukee Auxiliary Bishop James Schuerman, a Leadership 360 participant, adding “It can really enhance your ministry.”

Building on the insights gained through these programs, the seminary has developed a three-credit semester course called “Parish Administration” that incorporates elements of, and expands upon, the Pastor’s Toolbox.

“After seeing the program first hand, the benefits of the 360 program for seminarians are very clear,” said SHSST Vice President for Pastoral Formation John Olesnavage, Ph.D. “Its power is the way it can deliver useful feedback in a way that improves ministerial leadership and communication skills,” he said.

Fourth-year seminarians returning in the fall as newly ordained transitional deacons will comprise the first cohort for the program.

“Good spiritual leadership takes place much more effectively in a parish environment that is run well. By expanding seminarian’s formation to include training in key administrative areas, they, as pastors, will find a smoother path that allows them to better bring the faithful into deeper relationships with God,” Olesnavage said, adding, “That, after all, is the seminary’s first duty.”

Located in Franklin, Wisconsin, SHSST ( is a Roman Catholic seminary specializing in priestly formation for men of all ages with a specific emphasis on seminarians over 30 years of age. SHSST also provides English-as-a-second-language instruction to clergy and seminarians from around the world.

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