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Emmaus Leadership Series Cohort 17 Lays Foundations for Growth

Catholic School Leaders Gather to Begin Professional Development Journey

Sondra Morris, principal of St. Benedict of Auburndale (back row middle), was chosen to participate in this well-respected leadership development course.


Sondra Morris, principal of St. Benedict of Auburndale (back row middle), was chosen to participate in this well-respected leadership development course.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., July 24, 2017 — Twenty-four Catholic school leaders gathered last week at the Boston College Connors Family Retreat Center to lay the groundwork for a twenty-month professional development journey with the Emmaus Leadership Series, an initiative of the Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education. The event launches a new cohort of Catholic elementary and secondary school leaders who want to make their schools’ mission and vision a tangible, sustainable reality through targeted growth in three dynamic areas: spiritual leadership, curriculum and instructional design, and business management.

“For Catholic school leaders, it’s essential to lead school from a deep commitment to the Catholic faith, but the school needs to serve its students academically, too, and none of that happens without careful financial management,” says Kristin Barstow Melley, Roche Center Director of Professional Development and Emmaus Series director. “Whether you’ve been in the role for a long time, or just become a principal, those demands can be overwhelming. The Emmaus Series equips school leaders to hold spiritual, academic, and business leadership in a productive tension.”

Based on the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools (NSBECS), Emmaus Series retreats, workshops, and webinars are led by experts from across Boston College and partner institutions. The standards– and the Emmaus Series– are not only academic and operational; they are profoundly missional. Each cohort proceeds through a workshop cycle which includes events on “Leading Effective School Boards,” “Assessment for Learning,” and “Boosting Professional Capital,” as well as “The Joy of the Gospel.”

In that spirit, each cohort begins with a “foundational retreat.” The summer event invites leaders to begin their professional development journey by deepening their understanding of the “why” of Catholic education. “You need to be clear about your purpose in order to attract people to that mission,” Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D., told Cohort 17 on their first day at the Connors Center, before directing them to an activity revisiting school mission statements. “Why do you exist? Why should parents commit their children to your care? Your mission should be your foundation– deep in the soul of everyone in the building.”

At last week’s Cohort 17 event, participants represented eleven states and fifteen dioceses, but shared one goal: to lead mission-driven Catholic schools. In addition to the expertise tapped through workshops and webinars, the Series offers principals another invaluable resource: a network of committed Catholic school leaders who offer wisdom, ideas, and mutual support. “The group begins as strangers, but by day three, they’re close companions,” Melley says with a smile. Prayer, reflection, and group activities invite participants to build relationships with one another. Throughout their Emmaus Series journey, the cohort will both fortify their leadership by sharing resources and strategies for common challenges, and deepen their camaraderie as members of a faith community.

The retreat concluded with Mass, presided by Fr. Ronny O’Dwyer, S.J. He sent out the participants with a reflection on the Emmaus story from the Gospel of Luke. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ disciples were bereft and wanting to understand all that they had experienced. Christ appeared alongside them, though they didn’t recognize him. “Like those disciples, we find meaning in the sharing of our stories. Like those disciples, we reflect with Christ and with one another on what He has taught us and called us to do, and find our way forward by imitating what we celebrate in our service with those entrusted to us.”

The cohort will reunite for workshops and webinars in the coming year on school governance, marketing and enrollment, school finances, and systems thinking. For now, school leaders go out to fulfill their vocation in Catholic schools, strengthened by fresh understandings of leadership and by their membership in the faith community of the Emmaus Leadership Series.

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About The Roche Center

The Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education (The Roche Center) strengthens Catholic education through the promotion of research-based educational innovations and the generation of research to lead the transformation of Catholic schools to serve with a preferential option for the poor and marginalized. The Roche Center accomplishes this mission through a strong commitment to research, professional development, advocacy, and outreach.

Housed within the top-ranked Lynch School of Education at Boston College, the Roche Center brings together a collaborative community of Catholic school leaders, teachers, researchers, scholars, and innovators to sustain and improve K-12 Catholic education. Signature programs include: the Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS), a national dual-language immersion initiative; the Emmaus Series, a leadership advancement program for Catholic school leaders; and Urban Catholic Teacher Corps of Boston College (UCTC), a two-year volunteer and graduate program where licensed teachers serve full-time at an urban Boston Catholic school. For more information, visit

Jun 22, 2018

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