Peoria mayor speaks to Catholic Leadership Camp at St. Philomena

Photo Caption: Mayor Jim Ardis of Peoria emphasized the role faith plays in good leadership and decision-making.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Effective leaders communicate well, listen intently, keep an open mind and are courteous when faced with an opposing opinion, according to Mayor Jim Ardis of Peoria. But one more thing is required.

“I don’t think I have to tell any of you how important it is to use our faith to guide,” he said to the junior high students at the Catholic Leadership Camp at St. Philomena School in Peoria last week. “It’s the Golden Rule — do unto others.”

He advised them to “make sure you lead by example, that you let your faith guide your decisions, and that you do it for the right reasons, and you’ll all be fine.”

Ardis was one of the guest speakers for the Catholic Leadership Camp, which was held the first week of August. Danielle VanMeenen developed the materials for the program and taught the morning sessions with the assistance of students from Peoria Notre Dame High School.

“I came to St. Philomena last year from the public schools and I was struck by the natural leadership the kids have. I can tell they have a bright future ahead of them,” said VanMeenen, who will teach faith formation to the junior high students this fall. “I wanted to see how we could grow that if we concentrated on that natural leadership.”

Principal Jodi Peine said a similar program had been offered in the past and gave VanMeenen the green light for the summer camp.

She filled the mornings with information about interpersonal communication, decision-making skills, and setting goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely, and how to overcome obstacles. The students also learned about servant leadership and Christian virtues, as modeled by holy men and women like Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Blessed Mother Teresa, Blessed Chiara Luce Badando, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Therese of Lisieux.

VanMeenen incorporated a variety of activities that helped them understand the topics for the day, but didn’t feel like lectures.

Peine said these skills are necessary now and that’s why St. Philomena has been focusing on these “global competencies.”

“Our kids’ competition is no longer sitting at St. Thomas and St. Vincent de Paul,” she said, referencing neighboring Peoria schools. “They’re sitting in Rio and Bangalore and Singapore and Beijing and across the world.”

To compete on a global level, students will need to know how to work collaboratively and lead a group, make decisions and set goals, Peine told The Catholic Post.

“All those things are good life skills, but they’re also good leadership skills. If we do our job well with our faith, everything they do will be anchored in their faith. So we’ll have good Catholic leaders,” she said.

Ardis, who attended St. Cecilia School and Spalding Institute and tries to get to daily Mass, reminded the future leaders that he had never walked into a meeting where he knew everything and they probably wouldn’t either.

“People expect leaders to have the ability to listen — listen to all sides and then help the group make decisions that will be good for everybody,” he said.

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