“This was like an IV of the Holy Spirit.” That deeply held reaction by a participant at the 2022 Catholic Schools Leadership Academy retreat reflects the general sentiment after this year’s 10th anniversary event on the Loyola Marymount University Campus – a weekend focused on faith, reflection, fellowship, and restoring spirits.
The dual-purpose event from July 29-31, 2022, brought about 50 principals and teacher-leaders from Catholic secondary schools across the U.S. to Los Angeles for LMU’s Catholic Schools Leadership Academy reunion of Catholic Extension alumni for “Together in Mission,” along with current students for an “Invitation to Lead” retreat as part of their professional development certificate program with the CSLA.
“LMU’s School of Education is nationally recognized for its Catholic school leadership preparation graduate programs due in large part to the work of the late Dr. Tony Sabatino, as well as the continued commitment to excellence by our program faculty Sister Angie Shaughnessy, Tony Galla, Ed.D., Susan Abelein Ph.D., and our LMU Jesuit community,” said Lauren R. Casella, Ed.D., assistant clinical professor in the LMU School of Education and CSLA program director. “This weekend brought to life all that makes LMU’s program a transformational experience – faith formation and professional growth all shaped within a joyful community of learners.”
Chicago-based Catholic Extension in partnership with LMU offer a graduate-level online certificate in Catholic School Administration to novice and prospective leaders in Catholic schools in Extension dioceses across the U.S., often in rural areas. The program is for current leaders in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, such as vice-principals, and new principals, or those who have been identified for a future leadership role. Leadership development is often viewed as a strategic concern for Catholic schools, but many lack opportunities for leadership development due to cost and distance barriers. LMU’s leadership academy, with substantial funding from Catholic Extension, fills that gap.
Casella, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration, has served as director of CSLA for the past five years and has guided the program’s success. As of 2021, more than 200 students from 50 archdioceses have participated, with nearly half of all students being selected for a promotion in their diocesan school system within the first two to three years after certification. In total, more than 200 leaders have earned their Certificate in Catholic School Administration since Sabatino founded the program in 2012.
The recent weekend’s parallel agendas were tailored for each participating group. The welcome to “Invitation to Lead Weekend” on St. Robert’s Lawn was followed by coursework at Black Student Space/Bird Nest, a Mass, dinner, and fellowship. Saturday brought more coursework in the William H. Hannon Library, time for walking meditation, and more coursework, followed by dinner and fellowship. Sunday’s concluding coursework was followed by a Mass, reception, and a wrap-up presentation.
“I was ministered to, and I was able to minister to others,” said Becky Frye of St. Mary’s Catholic School in Knoxville, Tennessee. “It was reaffirming and helped me to fully realize the need to provide similar opportunities for the community that I am a leader of.”
Another participant also found much to praise. “My participation has helped me build my confidence (and toolbox) but more importantly it has given me a community in which to learn and lean on,” said Annmarie Ghio of St. Ann Catholic School in Memphis, Tennessee. “Every Catholic leader (and potential leader) should experience this program.”
Brigid Adkins of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School in San Dimas, said, “I felt invigorated with new ways to reach out to my team by focusing my leadership on our Catholic identity, who we are and what we do, and to pause for a moment to remember the graces.”
“Together in Mission: Reunion and Retreat” from Friday to Sunday included learning discussions, Masses, Catholic Extension and Ignatian yoga at Black Student Space/Bird Nest and University Hall.
“We are different because of this experience,” wrote Anthony Mangar in a Facebook post. “We are imbued with the graces to perform this work. We are transformed. … My prayer for this cohort … is that our root beliefs will always guide our steps as we exude Christ’s love in our schools. May we be compelled to practice the ‘magis’ in our vocation.”