With extensive ministry experience over the past 25 years, Paula Staszkow is living proof that shared, collaborative ecclesial ministry and leadership can be beneficial and effective.
“The diocesan model is to be co-workers, co-leaders in the vineyard,” says Paula, parish director of St. Clare Parish in Roseville, conveying a well established message “that Bishop Jaime Soto references a lot.”
“Co-workers suggests others can help,” she notes, speaking about the larger vision of collaborative ministry among ordained and lay ministers. “The passage that always comes to mind for me is 1 Corinthians 12,” she says, quoting one of St. Paul’s most vivid metaphors of one body with many indispensable parts. “We really come together to be the body of Christ.”
PARISH GROWTH LEADS TO NEW ROLE
When Paula and her husband, Deacon Kevin Staszkow, first moved to Roseville with their young children, Paula maintained part-time involvement in youth ministry at St. Clare. Eventually she accepted the position of director of faith formation and youth ministry.
Then when Father Steven Foppiano arrived in 2010 to serve as pastor for the fast-growing parish – one of the largest in the Diocese of Sacramento – he recognized something more in Paula. Her ministry experience and degree in human resources suggested her great potential as a parish director. Father Steven wanted to give the shared leadership model a try. By 2012, she accepted the position and has served in the role ever since, always holding fond memories of mentor Father Steven who passed away in 2013.
“I was really honored and very excited,” Paula recalls, describing how the position was designed to help parish ministries develop and thrive but also to help and support priests, “allowing them to focus on their true ministry and what they’re called to do.”
Today, Paula leads an administrative and ministry staff of 15 people overseeing finance, human resources, facility and ministry management. Equally important, she lends her expertise and leadership talents in support of Father George Snyder, pastor, and his clergy team which includes a parochial vicar and three deacons.
“It has been a tremendous blessing to have this structure already in place,” Father George emphasizes, thinking back to when he arrived in July 2017. He had served previously as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Redding and at smaller parishes and handled all pastoral and administrative responsibilities.
Considering the ratio of two priests to 5,000 families, he knew the dramatically increased scale of ministry and operations at St. Clare Parish simply would have been too much without a parish director to share responsibilities. He concedes: “I just do not know how I would have been able to be effective.”
WHAT IS A PARISH DIRECTOR?
The job title and scope of responsibilities may vary depending on parish needs. Roughly 25 percent of diocesan parishes employ an office or business manager, sometimes called a parish administrator, and in Paula’s case, a parish director. The larger parishes by necessity often do engage in a greater degree of co-responsibility with the pastor, who entrusts significant management duties to their valued co-worker and co-leader.
Over and beyond Paula’s four-page job description, she points to a seemingly less tangible job function but no less of a priority. “My job is to know the pastor’s vision, and the vision of the pastoral council, and to help them get there,” Paula says.
Father George extols Paula’s skill and understanding. Her special awareness and appreciation of unique circumstances and situations set her apart as a valued and trusted co-worker, partnering in the responsibilities of a vibrant parish community. She directs, prioritizes and elevates ministerial or spiritual priorities to Father George, while accepting, managing and directing parish operations.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SHARED LEADERSHIP, RESPONSIBILITY
Paula sees the co-worker model as vitally important because it allows a pastor to do what he is ordained to do as a priest.
“I can spend more time in ministry,” Father George says, happily concurring that it is “what I am ordained for” and “the greatest gift I can give.” Whether in prayer, teaching a lesson in a class, visiting the elderly, hospitals or convalescent homes, Father George appreciates the time he can spend in spiritual counseling, greeting people, getting to know parishioners, and building up community.
“The parish director doesn’t take over the parish, but having a director makes the priest flourish,” Father George insists.
“The ‘business part’ of the church can be handled by others,” freeing up Father George so he can minister to parishioners, Paula explains. She acknowledges that people do not easily consider the business aspects of parish life, but her position ensures that the intensity of daily operations do not negatively detract from Father George’s “job to bring us all to heaven.”
Paula responds to an abundance of inquiries and requests, making sure each is appropriately directed to the right parish professional.
“She gives me briefings, keeps me in the loop, and highlights daily operations,” Father George says, further commending how “she is very organized, very professional.” He also is grateful that the parish director serves as the resident expert on policy and procedure – parish, diocesan and state – helping the priest and community “making sure we are in compliance.”
“Father George has distinct gifts that I don’t have and I have distinct gifts that he doesn’t have,” Paula offers, confirming “we use all our gifts together" -- clergy team and staff -- “to build up the body of Christ.”
WHAT MAKES CO-LEADERSHIP WORK?
Both Father George and Paula acknowledge the model may not be feasible everywhere. It must be right for the parish and right for the pastor.
Paula commends the diocese for “consulting with the priest personnel board to find priests who would work well with this model.”
“I think that personality-wise, we match,” Father George says with obvious satisfaction for the simpatico relationship with Paula. “I have peace,” he adds, noting how “everything is based on teamwork, communication and collaboration.”
Father George further describes Paula’s soft skills and innate abilities. which keep things on track, present an environment of order, offer direction and reminders, foster time management and encourage a healthy work-life balance. He implies that these qualities represent the underlying foundation of effective co-leadership with a parish director.
Paula credits “flexibility and a willingness to do what is needed” as key ingredients to the success of a co-leadership team. She applauds Father George for his understanding and compassion for her personal family life needs in a setting of perpetual, seasonal and liturgical demands.
“Every day is new and different,” Paula says of the opportunity to work with clergy, laity and volunteers, citing how it “makes me feel like we’re constantly building up the kingdom of God… what we’re called to do.”
Father George concurs, noting “this is our baptismal calling and all of us share the common priesthood.” Co-working, co-leading, collaborating, he implores, is for everyone if the faithful aim to build up the body of Christ.
About St. Clare Parish in Roseville at www.stclareroseville.org.