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Vol 39 No 4


Francis Mansour LCM

Charles Hill

Terry Lyons

Vincent Battaglia

Sophie McGrath RSM

Peter Malone MSC

Kevin Mark



Ministry appraisal:
One priest's experience


FOR SOME YEARS NOW, I have been considering a Ministry Appraisal—as a 'reality check' and to 'promote my growth'. In 2003, at the national gathering of Clergy Life and Ministry personnel, Mgr. Vince Redden (Sydney) explained the process of his own appraisal in 2000, and encouraged us all to have a go. Again, at the 2005 national gathering in June, he encouraged us to do it. So, when I returned home, I took the plunge. It was an opportune time, as I have been in my present parish in Townsville city for ten years. So people here would know me

Firstly, I discussed it with the Bishop, and then with our Parish Leadership Team. They all thought it was a very good idea, and were most encouraging. So I then spoke with the Director of the Catholic Education Office, who was also most supportive. In consultation with the Director, I chose a C.E.O. consultant, Ross Horner, who was experienced in carrying out performance appraisals for people in senior management positions in catholic schools. Ross agreed to oversee the whole appraisal process for me. Ross met with our Parish Leadership Team and myself, and we worked out a process suited to my role as a parish priest. It was based on the Review Process developed by the Sydney Archdiocese in 1997. Cardinal Clancy, in a letter to his priests at the time, wrote, 'Although participation is voluntary, all priests and especially those in the fifth year of their parish appointment are asked to consider seriously the appraisal process.'

My appraisal was carried out at two levels.

First, we identified the five principal areas of my ministry: Pastoral Relationships and Pastoral Care, Liturgical Ministry, Leadership, Administration/Organisation, and my Diocesan Role. A response sheet was then prepared for use by parishioners who wished to do so. The response sheet was headed: 'Towards Growth—a Voluntary Review for Fr Terry Lyons.' On the response sheet, the five areas were listed, and under each heading a number of specific sub-headings were listed. Then two boxes were placed under each area with the headings 'Affirmations' and 'Recommendations'. It was on both sides of an A4 sheet. A letter from me was stapled to each sheet. On the last Sunday in August, copies of the response sheets (and letter) were left at the church doors. During Mass, I read out my letter, and encouraged people to respond. I made two important points: i) the exercise was entirely my own initiative, and ii) responses would be sent directly to Ross Horner, and I would not see any individual response, nor would I even be told who responded. It would be anonymous. Over a hundred response sheets were taken, that weekend and over the following weekends.

Second, I wrote a self-appraisal. It was three typed pages, and covered the five key areas already mentioned, as well as an additional one entitled 'Spiritual and Physical Health'. This, together with a special response sheet, was sent to twenty-one people whom I had nominated. Once again, these responses were returned directly to Ross. And I did not see any of them, nor did I even know who responded.

Ross received twenty-three general responses and sixteen from nominated people (with two apologies). From these he composed a summary draft report. At the end of September, he met with a 'Validation Panel' consisting of a priest, a member of the Parish Leadership Team and an involved diocesan person. They discussed the draft report and finalised it. Ross then presented the final report to me on 11th October. He went through it with me in some detail. It was four typed pages long. It had a general introduction, an outline of the process, summaries of the responses under the six headings, some general comments, and a conclusion.

Understandably, I had been a little anxious in anticipation. However, I was relieved and delighted that the report was basically very affirming. People said some really complimentary things about me and my work! They also had some constructive criticism to offer. Almost all respondents affirmed me for being 'brave' enough to undergo the process in the first place. And some said it showed a willingness to be open and accountable at a time when the Church is being criticised for not being accountable.

Soon after receiving the report, I wrote an open letter in the Parish Bulletin informing people in general terms of the results of the process, and thanking those who participated. I concluded by saying, 'The whole experience was for me both very affirming and an opportunity for growth. It is one of the highlights of my ten years here at Holy Spirit.'

I subsequently gave copies of the report to the Bishop, my Ministry Supervisor, and the other three members of the Parish Team. With these people, I discussed the report and its implications for my ministry. These 'critical friends' were an important element in the whole process.
I must say that, thanks to Ross Horner, the appraisal was carried out very professionally, and I have confidence in its outcome.

I would recommend it to any priest for a number of reasons.

First, we are professionals. And nowadays, professional appraisal is part and parcel of many professions, e.g. the Catholic Education system. As 'Integrity In Ministry' states (No. 4.1): 'In response to their vocation, religious and clergy develop and maintain skills their particular ministry requires. [One of the ways of doing this is] by reflecting regularly on one's pastoral practice with a competent supervisor or colleague.' Ministry appraisal can be an extension of this 'quality control'. (Integrity in Ministry—Principles and Standards for catholic Clergy and Religious in Australia, National Committee for Professional Standards. June 2004.)

Second, appraisal can be an important part of our personal and professional development, commending us for what we do well, and recommending what we can do better. It indeed moves us 'towards growth'.

And third, it can boost our morale. For me, it was a shot in the arm. And that is the common experience of those priests who undertake it.
No wonder Cardinal Clancy urged that his priests do it every five years.

Terry Lyons is a priest of the Townsville Diocese, who was ordained in 1965, and has worked in parishes all his priestly life. Although he is Vicar General, he describes himself as a 'common or garden variety' priest!