Paradigm shift in church leadership as evidenced in a Roman Catholic parish: A case study

Lawrence D'Souza, Fordham University


The purpose of this study was to understand the process and the strategies employed to implement the collaborative style of leadership in a Roman Catholic parish in the United States, to examine and interpret the perceptions, philosophy, and spirituality of those who are active in the work of the parish, to study how this pastoral leadership is exercised in areas like pastoral administration and governance, liturgy, education, community building, outreach, empowerment of the faithful, justice and peace activities, and conflict management. Research questions were framed around these topics: Action strategies used to implement the new paradigm of leadership, perceptions and philosophy of the lay leaders, spirituality, training and formation of leaders; practice of leadership in different areas of pastoral life, and the impact of this leadership on newcomers, the staff, and the traditionalists. The study is situated against the backdrop of the Biblical foundations for this style of leadership and the teaching of Vatican II. A set of eight secular theories of leadership provided an adequate theoretical framework for this research. An examination of the most current research on Catholic life and that of the literature on collaboration helped to put the study in the right perspective. Qualitative case study design was used to conduct this study. Data were gathered through in-depth interviews, observation, and document analysis. A total of 42 parishioners participated in the study. The analysis of the data yielded several key pastoral themes. The study focuses its attention on four most important themes: the role of adult education in the change process, the leadership styles at various levels of pastoral activity, the support mechanisms that sustain the model of pastoral leadership, and the tensions, challenges, and concerns the faith community is or will be facing in the future. In the light of the discussion of these major themes, the study makes three sets of recommendations: to the parish community, to the academic community, and to the hierarchical leadership. The key findings of this study may lack generalizability; nonetheless, they will serve as “inspirations” for those who wish to implement the collaborative style of leadership in any pastoral setting.

Subject Area

School administration|Religious congregations|Religion

Recommended Citation

D'Souza, Lawrence, "Paradigm shift in church leadership as evidenced in a Roman Catholic parish: A case study" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9923430.