Faith-based leadership means standing out, serving others

Photo Caption: Stephen Rudolph, right, one of the featured speakers at the Faith-Based Leadership Conference on March 31, takes part in a table discussion with Dan Bohan, left, and Ray Ramirez.

By: By Tom Dermody

At a time when some — including government officials — perceive Catholics as weak, those who believe in the Risen Christ are called to be fearless in living their faith from the family room to the board room.

“Too many Catholics want to blend in instead of standing out,” said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at a March 31 Mass opening a Faith-Based Leadership Seminar sponsored by the Diocese of Peoria’s Office of Evangelization. “But being a Catholic Christian is supposed to be demanding. There are things that demand we stand up.”

The bishop used the gathering of dozens of business and community leaders at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria to again rally opposition to the recent mandate from the Obama administration requiring church institutions to cooperate in providing birth control, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in their health care plans.

“Not to speak is to speak,” he reminded the leaders in his homily. “Not to choose is to choose.”

Encountering Jesus presents us with choices and asks us to make changes in our lives, said Bishop Jenky. “Jesus would never have been nailed to the cross if he was warm and cuddly,” he said. Bishop Jenky urged Catholics to be like the early disciples who, though once afraid, fought fearlessly for the Lord after they met the Risen Christ.

Speakers throughout the day — including a U.S. District Court judge, a sales representative, and an attorney — shared ideas and challenges for integrating faith in all aspects of life, including at the workplace.

“We have always lived in a world that questions faith, from the time of Jesus through today,” said Judge Jim Shadid, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois. He acknowledged that public remarks by a judge to any group might be misconstrued “by some promoting an agenda,” but said it’s important for judges to speak “so the public can have understanding and faith in what we do.”

“Whether it is our own doubt, or whether it is others doubting us, we need to be men and women of substance,” said Shadid, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights. Echoing Bishop Jenky’s call, Shadid said leaders in all walks of life need to be “willing to stand up for an ideal or strike out against injustice. Willing to believe in something greater than us and standing up for that belief.”

Like other speakers, Shadid used a personal story — the death of his brother seven years ago from cancer — to illustrate and motivate.

“I think about how, near the end of his life, he guided us instead of us guiding him,” said Shadid. “When we were sad he made us happy; when we were angry he gave us joy and told us not to blame; when we felt despair he provided hope. His strength became our strength.

“It is a strength we need to provide for others,” Shadid told the leaders. “The strength to believe in others.”

For attorney Cynthia Elias, the death of her son Daniel in 2007 at the age of 23 motivated her to establish a foundation in his name to provide low- cost veterinary care — including spaying and neutering — for animals, especially cats, of lower income families.

Her work has a very spiritual component, said Elias, as she models her efforts on the Beatitudes as well as the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and Blessed Pope John Paul II.

“I believe God hears even the smallest voice and smiles when we extend mercy,” said Elias, a member of Sacred Heart Parish and St. Sharbel Maronite Rite Church in Peoria. “I try to run the program as God would want. I believe God expects us to exercise patience and show kindness.”

She and her husband John also lost a son, David, 10 days after birth from a severe heart defect. They have a daughter, Alison. Cynthia Elias told the business leaders during the times of grief she felt God’s presence through the kindness and compassion of others. She believes God also uses his creatures for healing.

“I wonder how many animals were put on someone’s doorstep by God to help heal some heartache, past or future,” she said.

Just as athletes have coaches and personal trainers, Catholics who want to live their faith in all aspects of life need “someone to steer us” and provide regular “spiritual health checks” said Stephen Rudolph of Germantown Hills, who has 30 years of experience in sales for IBM and other major clients.

The day’s program book included a list of area individuals trained in spiritual direction, and Rudolph said there is powerful and plentiful other support for Catholic living — from the Communion of Saints to our guardian angel to the church fathers and present leaders.

Rudolph, who with his wife Rose Marie and their six sons have been active in Catholic music and a variety of other ministries, suggested “Six Sigma Spiritual Secrets” to help live the faith daily (Bible reading, prayer, examination of conscience), weekly (Mass attendance and Eucharistic adoration), monthly (the sacrament of reconciliation), and annually (making a retreat).

“If you’re not living your spiritual life with some pursuit of excellence, ask yourself ‘What am I going to do to change that?'” challenged Rudolph, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Metamora.

A recurring theme throughout the day was Jesus’ own example of leaders sacrificing their own interests, time, and talents for the good of others.
Leadership is “anchored in the faith that helping others is fundamentally more important than helping oneself,” said Shadid, who noted leadership “comes in many forms” other than politicians, CEOs, bishops and judges. He cited examples of a camp counselor working long days for little pay to teach youngsters lifelong skills; the disabled child who can’t make the athletic team so he contributes as team manager; and the mother who convinces community leaders that a stop sign is necessary for the safety of children.

“Self-donation” is how Jack Desatnick, moderator for the day, described it.

“When you leave here today, I hope you know it’s all right to be different, to be Catholic, to be Christian — and that you’re not alone,” said Desatnick, a member of St. Edward’s Parish in Chillicothe and a former CEO of Midwest Kidney Centers and former CFO of Jumer Hotels and Casinos. His vision resulted in the first faith-based leadership seminar two years ago.

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