First session of Servant Leadership program concludes

Michelle Yetley, Bill Graf and Sister Laura Goedken, OP, reflect on servant leadership during the final session of their Iowa City group’s Servant Leadership Institute on Dec. 3. A new institute will begin in January.

By Barb Arland-Fye

IOWA CITY — Every other Friday for eight weeks, 11 individuals and their “coach” carved time out of their busy schedules to come together to learn about and reflect on servant leadership.

These 11 from Iowa City were among 30 people participating in the Diocese of Davenport’s Servant Leadership Institute, which wraps up its first session Dec. 13.

The institute is the inspiration of Dan Ebener, the Davenport Diocese’s stewardship director, and Bishop Martin Amos, who wrote the foreword to Ebener’s new book “Servant Leadership Models for Your Parish.” The book, which is gaining national attention, is a key resource of the institute along with Scripture readings.

Ebener says the purpose of the Servant Leadership Institute is “to nurture the philosophy and the practice of servant leadership in order to develop parish servant leaders within the Diocese of Davenport.”


In addition to the Iowa City group, groups in Clinton and the Quad Cities have been meeting face-to-face for each session, while others in far-flung parishes participated entirely online with a coach. For the Iowa City group, meeting face to face was a bonding experience.

At its final session Dec. 3 the group, minus one participant, arrived early to share pizza and toast one another with a small cup of wine. They laughed together, prayed together, reflected on and discussed the value of servant leadership and its development in their own lives.

Sister Laura Goedken, OP, the diocese’s development director, facilitated the group with Bob Squires of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, who directs evangelization and stewardship for the four Iowa City parishes.

For the final session, the group discussed the book’s last chapter, “Developing Servant Leaders,” and a Scripture passage from Luke’s Gospel concerning a dispute among the 12 disciples shortly after Jesus had identified his betrayer. The participants shared their ideas about the challenges and blessings of servant leadership.

“The most important thing is to develop leaders,” observed Bill Graf of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, where the participants were gathered. “To be a good leader you have to be a good servant and lead from behind or from within.” His late wife, Nancy, served as a model for him through her ministry to the Catholic Church, he noted.

“There’s a servant leader in each of you,” Sr. Goedken told the participants. “I know you’re going to develop servant leaders.”

Michelle Yetley of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City shared a story about being fresh out of college and working as an assistant manager at a hotel where the manager helped out with chores such as cleaning bathrooms and making beds. “You can’t imagine how many times I thought of her when I was reading this book. She was a model for me in the corporate environment.”

 “We need to step up and model for others,” said Lee Gullickson of St. Thomas More.

Servant leaders should readily praise and give credit to their staff and volunteers, but also accept blame even when the servant leader didn’t make the mistake, Squires said. “You have to fall on your sword once in a while.”

Maureen Peck, parish secretary at St. Mary Parish in Tipton, sees servant leadership as a way of helping others to connect the dots. “When I go back to work and someone comes in with a great idea, I can help people initiate it,” she said.

Much of what the group has learned in the Servant Leadership Institute could be applied to the diocesan-wide planning process that is underway to foster greater collaboration and clustering among parishes, said Matt McAndrew, a member of St. Thomas More. “This is one way by which we can make those transitions. If we can do that, maybe we can raise up new leaders.”

Servant Leadership Day slated

The Diocesan Stewardship Commission is planning a Servant Leadership Day for Jan. 13 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. The workshop will meet a dual purpose of concluding the fall 2010 Servant Leadership Institute and launching the spring 2011 Servant Leadership Institute, which will run from January through April 2011. For more information, contact Dan Ebener, the Davenport Diocese’s stewardship director, at Or visit his book website at

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