Catholic Leadership Collaborative welcomes Kerry Robinson

“Collaboration is a key ingredient to the most effective and creative ministries. Across the whole of my life I’ve seen that. The importance of baptism and its rights and responsibilities, that is the tie that binds us.” – Kerry Robinson

IWF’s Catholic Leadership Collaborative initiative seeks to support and enhance the work of Catholic lay leaders in the Church through this cornerstone of collaboration. In February 2019, CLC invited Kerry Robinson to spark conversations regarding the formation and support of Catholic lay leadership. Kerry is the Founding Director and Ambassador of Leadership Roundtable, an organization established to strengthen the temporal affairs of the Church by harnessing the expertise of lay leaders in the Church.

The day began with a breakfast gathering of Women Religious Congregational Leaders and Lay Leaders serving their congregations at the Rigali Center. The congregations represented included:

School Sisters of Notre Dame
Ursuline Sisters
Sisters of Divine Providence
Sisters of Good Shepherd
Franciscan Sisters of Mary
Society of the Sacred Heart
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
Sisters of the Most Precious Blood

Kerry’s background as a woman of faith with experience on “both sides of the philanthropic coin” provided a rich foundation for dialogue. In her opening remarks, she praised “women religious in this country [who] have built out the church and reminded us daily of its mission and its call to holiness.”

“I make no apologies for being truly, passionately in love with the Catholic Church. And I first fell in love with that by virtue of being born to a family that now has a 75-year history of serving the church through the instrument of a private family foundation,” the Raskob foundation. Kerry went on to trace the impetus and history of several pivotal initiatives in her career, including her groundbreaking role as the director of development for Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University; active involvement in establishing FADICA (Foundations And Donors Interested in Catholic Activities); and through that organization, advocacy for the needs of retired members of religious congregations through the creation of SOAR, Support Our Aging Religious.

“As a child I fell in love with the church because I was meeting women and men ordained religious and lay like you, who in my view were always standing at the vanguard of human suffering,” Kerry reflected. They were “responding to that human suffering by alleviating it, by championing justice, by advocating for peace, by providing catechesis, providing healthcare, ministering to the homeless.”

Her own faith was nurtured and flourished by the example of women and men religious. Kerry continued, “I saw you as seeing the worst of what humankind can do to one another, to each other, and to our planet. And yet every day you show up and you would extend mercy. And in the midst of all of this, which was clear that this was done from a deep personal faith, you evinced a palpable sense of joy.”

Following Kerry’s talk (read a full transcript), the group participated in roundtable discussions on lay formation for leadership, and how the Congregations can empower lay leaders to lead the institutions and ensure that the charisms survive. The small group discussions noted:

  • Congregations desire to continue this work and found the workshop helpful. They have all been on this journey to lay-leadership but have not communicated across congregations about ways to implement change. The Catholic Leadership Collaborative can continue to be one of idea-sharing and innovation born through collaboration
  • Lay employees deal with trying to figure out Congregational dynamics, how best to inspire collaboration. Working for a religious congregation can be very different. They may struggle as they are not really a part of the congregation, but are working with them
  • It’s important to share the charism and core values. Legacy.  Purpose.  Development of spirituality.  Leadership training—difference between corporate leadership experiences and Sister ministry leadership.


That afternoon, at SLUH’s Si Commons, Kerry addressed the official Catholic Leadership Collaborative kick-off event. Her remarks included an overview of her philanthropic efforts on behalf of Church organizations. These experiences crystalized, for her, these maxims regarding successful involvement of lay leadership in Church ministries:

  • Collaboration “is a key ingredient into the most creative and effective ministries that I’ve ever seen as a funder or ever participated in as a lay woman who deeply loves this church.”
  • The importance of baptism and all its rights and responsibilities should not be taken for granted. “Catholics have risen to levels of affluence and influence in the US and count among the highest echelons of leadership in every sector. Many of these Catholic leaders want to contribute what they do best to the church that they love. This is far beyond contributing financially.”
  • Diversity matters. “Who is at the table of decision making and deliberation matters. It’s why there is such an important urgent need to ensure that women and young adults are given leadership opportunities and included in decision making.”
  • Laity are “often an overlooked and underutilized resource, but the beauty is that laity are a resource. You are all an expression of that and together wonderful grace-filled things can happen.”
CLC Panel (l-r): Kerry Robinson, Jared Bryson, Joyce Jones, Bridget Flood

Following these remarks (read a full transcript), a panel of Catholic lay leaders contributed their insights and experiences to the gathering of over 60 professionals working in Catholic organizations. Bridget Flood, Executive Director of Incarnate Word Foundation, moderated the panel composed of Joyce Jones, Director of Administration at St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Manchester, and Jared Bryson, System Vice President, Mission for Mercy Health.  Bridget opened the session with demographic information on the Catholic Church in the St. Louis region:

“Over the past 20 years we’ve really been holding steady. The percentage of population in our larger Archdiocese of St. Louis has gone from 25% of the overall population being Catholic, which would be 533,577 souls in 1998, to 509,280 people in 2018 and 23%. So, we really have not lost that many people, contrary to what we sometimes think. We have seen a decline in the total number of parishes and worship sites, however, from 239 parishes and worship sites—missions, oratories, chapels, in 1998, to 197 in 2018.

“The bigger decline has been in the number of Priests, the number of Sisters, and the number of Brothers. In the past 20 years we have seen the number of Sisters in the Archdiocese decrease by about 50%. In terms of Priests, we haven’t seen quite such a sharp drop, but we have gone from 455 to 315. So, almost as many. We’re seeing a decline in the number of vowed individuals who are working in the Archdiocese.

“To me,” Bridget stated, “that’s one of the primary reasons for being involved with something like a Catholic Leadership Collaborative. How do we work as laity in this thing we call Church? Whether it’s for the Archdiocese, whether it is in a social justice ministry founded by Catholics, whether it’s for women religious ministries, or the ministries of religious men or other Catholic entities. That’s a continual challenge and it is our call, because this really is becoming the time of the laity much more quickly than we thought.”

Some highlights from the panel and Kerry:

  • Formation for lay leaders is important, and drawing them into formation programs is a key factor. Tapping into a young adult’s desire for meaning, and meaning through service, is a great start. Leaders need formation which is both cognitive and affective.
  • Young adult engagement/connection to the Church is a major issue related to the involvement of lay leaders. Key factors include creating a parish life experience that engages young adults beyond the sacraments of marriage, baptism of children, etc. This includes liturgical experiences, social justice initiatives, and thinking in terms of the parish as more than the buildings within a certain zip code or boundary.
  • The hierarchical structure of the Church means the clergy are in charge. How do we bridge that gap between the young people and the older people — the people who have the knowledge and skills the Church needs, and the people who have life experience of what it is to be Catholic?
  • There are many people who are interested and ready to support their parish or diocese, and Catholic causes that they care about. Part of the problem though is that they have not yet been inspired; they have not yet been asked in a meaningful way to step up and take a leadership role in some of those organizations.
  • Lay leadership is expensive. As we have more lay pastoral administrators and parishes, that’s going to drive the costs up, so how do we as a Church continued to fund careers in ministry with lay leaders and be able to keep our talent and people on board?
  • A very practical question for young adults in lay ministry positions: How do you stay engaged when there are financial realities that are very difficult? Catholic education in St. Louis is very expensive. Many could not afford to send their children to Catholic high school.

Kerry concluded the session with these words of encouragement:

“If there is any grace to be found in the sexual abuse crisis, in my view, it was that it roused laity out of our lethargy. It’s tempting to blame pastors in the old model for not recognizing the innate intellectual and experiential contributions of laity, to only see them as sources of funding, but it’s a two-way street. I know lots of laity who would come to Mass, and they would never reveal what they do best, what they do in their regular professional lives. They never offered that in service to the Church, whether it’s at the parish or a more imaginative future.

“This is what the great contribution of laity is today,” she continued, “and it’s born of crisis. It’s born of necessity. It’s born of answering the vocational call to live out one’s baptismal responsibility, and it means that we have so much untapped wealth, but it’s not money. It’s experience, expertise, perspective, social entrepreneurial rigor, courage, commitment. Every time a lay person decides to stay in the church and not leave in exasperation because of the next wave of crisis, that is a profound grace for us. The fact that most of you in this room, most of us are lay, gives me incredible hope for the future of the church. It’s up to us to make clear what we can contribute, and it’s up to those of us who are in positions of leadership to intentionally seek it out and personally invite it.”

This vision, and the challenges it presents, is why the Catholic Leadership Collaborative was launched. “Rather than doing this in isolation – struggling with these questions, trying to figure out how Catholic world works – we thought by bringing established leaders and emerging leaders to the table, that would give us an opportunity for dialogue, networking, mutual support and heaven only knows what else,” said Bridget. The discussion concluded with next steps for future CLC initiatives.

For more information regarding the Catholic Leadership Collaborative, contact Megan Armentrout at the Incarnate Word Foundation.

The Catholic Leadership Collaborative Board includes:

Bridget McDermott Flood Incarnate Word Foundation
Megan Armentrout Incarnate Word Foundation
Sr. Helena Monahan Incarnate Word Foundation
Ray Harter SSM Health
Joyce Jones St. Joseph Catholic Church
Fr. Jack Schuler St. Cronan’s Catholic Church
Steve Givens Washington University
Jon Givens Catholic Youth Council – Archdiocese
Jared Bryson Mercy Health
Carolyn Wright Aquinas
Todd Guidry Chaminade College Prep