As the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Hales Corners, Fr. Brian Mason is the spiritual shepherd of 10,500 souls. He also heads a staff of 14 people and, with Principal Maria Schramm, oversees a school of almost 400 students.

Being at the helm of such a large operation, “it’s easy for me to feel like everything is on my shoulders,” he said. And though he added he is blessed with a competent and hard-working staff, collaboration can be tricky when it involves that many people. “I find it cumbersome to sit down with 14 people and say, ‘I need your advice on this issue,’” he said. “There were a lot of things I just kept inside my head.”

But things started to change, said Fr. Mason, a little more than a year ago when he and four members of his staff attended Amazing Parish orientation meetings at St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield. Those meetings were in anticipation of the Amazing Parish Conference, held at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee in October 2018. The three-day conference was an opportunity for Fr. Mason and the St. Mary group, along with over 200 other pastoral teams from around the country, to hear from Catholic author, speaker and business consultant Pat Lencioni and his team, who have given eight Amazing Parish conferences since 2014.

The Amazing Parish conference seeks to equip pastoral teams with the tools they need to move “from maintenance to mission” by improving the organizational structure of their parish, increasing the effectiveness of communication and assisting the pastor in unlocking his leadership potential.

“I came away from the Amazing Parish conference saying, “Oh my gosh, this is a whole different feeling — everything’s not sitting on my shoulders,’” said Fr. Mason.

The crucial takeaway from the conference for Fr. Mason and his staff was the formation of the Pastoral Leadership Team (PLT), a group of three to four key lay advisors who can provide consistent feedback and support to the pastor in his leadership of the parish. Fr. Mason’s pastoral leadership team includes St. Mary Director of Administrative Services Dan Hansen, Director of Catholic Formation Jeff Kacala and Director of Social Concerns and Outreach Pam Lownik.

Over the past year, these staff members and Fr. Mason have met on a weekly basis. That consistent, meaningful dialogue helped him to “share leadership” more effectively and more strategically than he has been able to in the past, he said.

“I now have a small group of people that I can bounce things off of … as opposed to, I’ve got to do this all myself,” he said. “They help me look at facets of whatever the issue is that maybe I wouldn’t consider on my own. And to be honest, they have been good at tempering me in terms of how I might say something, how I might go about something.”

Fr. Mason’s pastoral leadership team described their collective role as one of prayerful support and creative collaboration, helping their pastor to, in Lownik’s words, “articulate his vision and focus on the priorities that will make St. Mary an inspiring, thriving parish community of dynamic disciples who are equipped to lead others to Christ.”

Hansen described the day-to-day implementation of Amazing Parish as “more blue-collar than Harvard Business School” — the polished presentation and buzzwords aside, it’s essentially a strategy for supporting a parish’s scarcest and most valuable resource: its pastor.

Kacala said that he sees the PLT as “another of the many small communities” that exist at St. Mary.

“My role as a team member is to hold the work of our team up in prayer, support the other members of my team in their walk as disciples of Jesus Christ and in particular to assist Fr. Brian in executing his role as the shepherd of this community, helping him to capitalize on his strengths and lending my talents where he may need my assistance,” he said.

With the guidance of the PLT, Fr. Mason said he has been able to reflect more constructively on what the parish’s strengths and weaknesses are. One of the areas they have been trying to develop in the past few years is discipleship — sharing the Gospel message with others. “What we realized is that we do our best (evangelization) in small groups or one-on-one,” said Fr. Mason.

One bold new initiative to come out of the PLT is Fr. Mason’s commitment to meet with every school family with children in grades one through eight — 190 meetings in total, a third of which are already scheduled. He has 39 completed already and his goal is to have 50 under his belt by the end of the year.

“It’s about breaking down the bigness of this place and helping people have a more personal encounter with Jesus as opposed to everything being done en masse,” he said. “We take the fruits of what we do at Mass on Sunday and continue to grow it throughout the rest of the week.”

Lownik said that she feels Amazing Parish “gave us the tools and permission to dream big for our parishioners.”

“We are still at the beginning stages of implementing the things we learned,” she said. “The process is slow, not a magic bullet, and change is hard.”

“It’s going to be a slow journey and it’s going to take a long time,” said Fr. Mason. “But we are planting seeds and we can see the seeds starting to grow.”