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Welcome to another episode of Cathedral Square featuring host Fr. Christopher Smith.

On today’s engaging podcast, Fr Christopher welcomes to the studio the Director of the Office for the Diaconate, Deacon Tom Saenz. Having been ordained a deacon himself for a relatively short period of time, he has been able to utilize his many years as a business leader into this new role of service to the Church.

Tune in for another enlightening discussion!


Leading a church ministry is no different than leading a work group or a corporate department. It requires many of the same traits. 

At the newspaper where I landed my first job, the best writers were plucked from the newsroom and promoted to editors.  

And while some of them were inspiring and talented, there was little understanding that a good writer doesn’t always make the best leader. 

What does being a leader mean? How can you gain leadership skills to prepare for future success in your ministry or your career? 

Leadership – like every valuable skill – is something you develop over time. In a recent Inc. magazine column, best-selling author Jacob Morgan notes that the best leaders are not always at the top of the organization chart. “It relies on your ability to influence and engage other people,” he says. 

Jacobs says aspiring leaders need to concentrate in four areas: Self-reflection, balance, true self-confidence, and genuine humility 



I agree with Jacobs that daily self-reflection can help set the foundation for strong leadership. Mindfulness meditation may be all the rage right now, but there’s a reason it’s so popular – taking stock of your behavior and discovering your true values are powerful tools for future success. 

For Catholics, mindfulness meditation can incorporate prayer and contemplation. At my home altar I have several books that prompt deep thinking, including a daily missal and the book, “When Women Pray,” that contains essays written by several prominent Catholic women. 


Striking a balance 

Good leaders listen to lots of opinions from different sources, but they always take responsibility and act quickly and decisively. If you weigh informed opinions and issue a verdict, you will strike a balance as a thoughtful leader. 

Balance for Catholic leaders means a focus on others, including our families. When we strive for balance, we think of exercising more or eating well – but balance means sharing meals with our family members, attending the events they participate in, and getting a good night’s sleep.  


True self-confidence 

Jacobs says leaders who are truly self-confident know where they stand and improve themselves every day. If you can say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I was wrong,’ that’s a sign you have true self-confidence. 


Genuine humility 

Even if you reach a great milestone in your career, never forget everyone who helped you reach your goals. Most of us started working in our chosen profession on the ground floor, and it was key mentors and colleagues who helped nurture our best qualities and chief capabilities. 


Engagement with colleagues 

This year I was flattered to be asked to serve as president of the Orange County chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. One of the many reasons I joined the chapter is to hone my leadership skills while rubbing shoulders with leading local communicators. 

I realized right away that the position requires a lot of good leaders – not just one – to be successful. I am fortunate to work with a board full of dedicated people who want success for our association and the communicators it serves. 

In service to this and other volunteer-run organizations I’ve learned strategic leadership skills while contributing to an impressive and far-reaching international group. I’ve been able to share some of my own talents with colleagues in a variety of communications fields. 

I try to remember what Jacobs notes in his Inc. story: You must constantly evaluate your progress and ensure you are staying on the humble, balanced path to be an effective leader.  



Linda Ji and Penelope Hecker are the newest lay women taking up leadership roles in the ministry offices at the Diocese of Orange, joining Olivia Cornejo, director for the Institute of Pastoral Ministry; Norma Aguero, director of Child and Youth Protection; and Nancy Lopez, director of Catholic Deaf Community, among many other women of faith.  

Prior to starting her role last May as director of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages, Linda Ji acted as Donor Services Coordinator at Orange Catholic Foundation where she assisted in the For Christ Forever Campaign that financially supports the renovation of Christ Cathedral, and grants for Catholic schools and education enhancements, to name a few. Although she spent the last five years in development, she has worked even longer in youth and young adult ministry. Returning to ministry wasn’t something she expected.  

“I approach my leadership role with humility,” said Ji. “I intentionally had gone in a different direction, but God called me back. Humility is being able to see myself before God and others … being honest with myself in terms of my strengths and gifts as well as my limitations. Remembering that really helps me to act and do what I can and what I am being called to do. To realize that I can’t do it by myself; I need to partner with others and rely on God.” 

In her new role, she is responsible for providing a wide range of training for pastoral care ministries and resources for families in all stages of life including marriage preparation, bereavement and grief support, divorced, separated, widowed, mental health and healing support for women who have had an abortion.  

Like the Office of Pastoral Care, several other ministry offices cover a wide range of critical services.  

Institute of Pastoral Ministry Director Olivia Cornejo juggles many elements in her department, mainly classes and certification programs that provide theological knowledge for catechists and leaders to effectively teach the message of the Church to their parishes. About 1,000 people attend classes every month.  

Director of Child and Youth Protection Director Norma Aguero’s office ensures that every employee and volunteer is fully vetted and trained. There are about 75,000 clergy, employees and volunteers. Aguero is also in charge of providing age-appropriate education programs for children in all Diocesan schools. All measures are dedicated to reducing sexual abuse.  

The model of the domestic Church is what Ji believes should be reflected in the larger Church, an example she believes is important for youth to see.  

“The family is led by a mother and father or a wife and husband. Even there you see both. So I think it’s only fitting that even in the larger Church we are able to see both,” she said. “It’s important that women are present in liturgy. We could be lectors or ministers of Holy Communion and also in the institutional Church, whether it’s a diocesan office or a parish, it’s important for all of us to see both men and women serving in the Church to acknowledge that God is giving gifts to women as well to build up the body of Christ.” 


Servant leadership 

In June, Penelope Hecker was promoted from her role in publicity and public relations to director for the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (ODCCW).  

“Every Catholic woman in the Diocese is a member,” said Hecker. “It’s the best kept secret in Orange County because O.C. is such a diverse place, we have so many different cultures but we are all one in the Catholic Church.” 

ODCCW hosts a general meeting that provides lunch and registration at a different church each month. Each general meeting also provides a guest speaker that focuses on spirituality, leadership and service. About 80 women attend the monthly meetings but Hecker wants to see even more women. One of her goals as the new director is to find ways to encourage more active membership.  

ODCCW also implements special projects requested by the bishop, collects donation items for charities and assists groups and organizations through legislation. 

“I approach my role as a servant. It is our gift that we have in being women in Christ, and as a person in the body of Christ, we are called to serve one another,” said Hecker.  

In her 12th year as director of Catholic Deaf Community, Nancy Lopez also approaches her leadership in a similar way.  

“I see my role as a servant leader. It’s a pleasure to serve those that seek help. Just to see them have the courage to ask for assistance takes a huge leap of faith. They completely depend on us to provide them with assistance with whatever their situation,” said Lopez, who assisted her deaf sister during her journey in receiving the sacraments. That experience led her to become involved in the deaf community and eventually to her current role.  

“As women, we bring a different perspective. Not only in the work place but also pastorally,” said Lopez. “I think that the woman perspective of being there to collaborate and bring in a different point of view makes a huge difference in being able to serve the people we are called to serve.”  

Her department serves over 800 families and provides American Sign Language interpretation services for sacramental preparation, religious education, Sunday liturgies, counseling and retreats, to name a few.  


WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic Church could suffer from millions of people walking away from it unless all of its members, from ordained clergy to laity and everyone in between, take part in leadership to revitalize the church and its parishes, according to author Chris Lowney, the board chair of Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the United States’ largest hospital systems — religious or secular.

“I would have to confess to feeling at various times over these years, as a lifelong Catholic myself, that we have some challenges,” Lowney told Catholic News Service. “We’re not coming to grips as forthrightly as we might need. … We can’t gloss over these things, and we’ll be better off confronting these things squarely, and overcoming some of the challenges.”

But rather than write a book that’s 80 percent negative — which is what Lowney had in an early draft — he instead penned a book that he said is 80 percent “hopeful, positive” in “Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church,” to be published April 4.

Lowney, a former Jesuit seminarian, came up with the “EASTeR” acronym — the second “E” is lowercase — to highlight the five areas he sees as imperative for action.

The “E” stands for entrepreneurial, being “more creative and innovative in everything we do,” he wrote. The “A” is for accountability. “We will be good stewards who make best use of the talents and resources God has entrusted to the church,” he said. “We will monitor our results, successes and failures.”

The “S” in Lowney’s “EASTeR” acronym is to “serve the world’s poor and marginalized peoples,” he wrote in “Everyone Leads.” The “T” is to “transform the hearts and souls of our members,” Lowney said. And the “R,” he added, is to “reach out to engage and welcome the wider world.”

Even something as seemingly simple as greeting people when they come to Mass can take on a new cast when it is part of a comprehensive effort to transform church life, according to Lowney.

He admitted, though, to the tension between rushing headlong into change and adopting the “let Father do it” attitude. “That’s the tricky thing here,” Lowney said. “It’s one thing when Father, the parish council, the parish leadership team, say, ‘This is what we need to do and here are the ways you can help do it.’”

Lowney said he was struck by what he called a “horrific” statistic in a study he had read recently about parishes in the 21st century showing that “only a third of people would know how to become more involved and less than half of people feel more invited to do so. … Those are numbers that need to be in the 90s. Everybody needs to feel invited.

“Our challenges are multiplying,” he continued. “Our cohort of priests, religious women and men are all declining. A lot of the communities we traditionally thought of as the leaders or the people who do are declining when our challenges are multiplying. The only way I see us conquering that is when many more of us feel ‘this is my job, too.’ But that means I have some co-responsibility for the life of this parish and the church.”

What about for the Catholic who agrees with Lowney’s philosophy but would feel unsure of how to start? “I’m a great believer in easy wins,” Lowney explained. “In any situation, and certainly in our church as well, nothing is as encouraging as getting a little traction.”

He added, “Even to see a small number of us in a parish say, ‘Here’s five things we can start tomorrow’ — surely we can find five people to greet, give out the (parish) bulletin, welcome (others), have the pastor invite all of us to invite somebody else to something — maybe not Mass in the first instance, but some kind of activity in church.”

In “Everyone Leads,” he quoted one pastor who said from the pulpit, “Last year, when I stood up here to review our financials with you for the first time, I outlined our challenges and asked for your greater generosity. I want to thank you for your response: Our collections increased by 17 percent this year.”

And in touting women religious, Lowney noted, “We Catholics have no better ‘brand’ than these sisters, and they won it not by slick advertising but simply by manifesting the fascinating power of love.”

Surveying parishioners, including those who aren’t coming to Mass, can help identify what a parish needs to do, Lowney told CNS.

“Undertaking a survey like that requires a conscious decision that a parish council might want to undertake. In the life of organizations, when they measure and then remeasure it a year later or a couple of years later, there’s almost always improvement. Just the act of bringing something to our awareness … makes us a little more deliberate about trying to improve,” he said.

“It’s fun, we’ll have an adventure together, and six months from now, 12 months from now, 18 months from now we’ll get back together and celebrate some wins.”