In my special podcast this week, David Faber, the outstanding superintendent of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, joins me to discuss Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. In our conversation, we explore the implications of the work on our work—that is, as superintendents.
I have modified the following quote (paragraph 31):
The superintendent must always foster this missionary communion in his/her diocesan school system, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Act 4:32). To do so, she/he will sometimes go before her/his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he/she will simply be in their midst with his/her unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, she/he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and—above all—allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.
Leading from the front is visionary and necessary. But if no one is following you, you can’t point the way. Leading from the middle will lead to “smelling like the sheep” and a “bruised and battered Church” but it will be a leadership of accompaniment. However, sometimes the sheep are lagging behind and perhaps even lost. In this instance, the superintendent must drop back and help.
Pope Francis shows a remarkable understanding of leadership which should impact our work as superintendents. But isn’t the same model applicable to principals dealing with teachers and teachers dealing with students. We need to lead from the front, from the middle, and from the back depending on the needs of our followers.
In paragraph 173, Pope Francis also emphasizes accompaniment and thus sheds light on the demands upon an educational leader.
Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization. Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Titus provides an example of this accompaniment and formation which takes place in the midst of apostolic activity. Entrusting them with the mission of remaining in each city to ‘put in order what remains to be done’ (Ti 1:5; cf. 1 Tm 1:3-5), Paul also gives them rules for their personal lives and their pastoral activity.
Accompaniment is based in relationship. We establish a relationship, find what they need, and then equip our school leaders with the necessary policies and procedures. And then we leave them in charge and keep listening to hear what else they might need. This is our job as superintendents but again I imagine it’s not unlike the job of a principal in relation to his/her teachers as well as a teacher in relation to his/her students.
We are encouraging people to read Joy of the Gospel as part of our re-visioning process of Catholic schools. But I find value in the leadership reflections and encourage educational leaders to read for personal and spiritual development.