By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
When businessman Timothy Flanagan founded the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) in 1991, his idea was to develop lay leaders, especially young lay leaders for the Church. Missions change. Although the institute still trains lay leaders, the major part of the work today is teaching those same leadership skills to clergy.
“When I was growing up, a man was 20 years ordained before becoming a pastor. He got on the job training,” Flanagan said. “Now, in some places a man is ordained and the next year he’s a pastor.”
From its modest beginnings in the Philadelphia Archdiocese the CLI now does leadership training for clergy in 45 dioceses.
Minnesota-born Flanagan lived in various locations in the Philadelphia area through his formative years, with the exception of a brief time in Los Angeles. A 1965 graduate of Villanova University, he and Terese, his wife of 44 years, moved around the country as his business in finance dictated. They raised five children, Tim Jr., Michael, Nancy, Steve and Trisha, who have given them 13 grandchildren.
After the family returned to the Philadelphia area in 1985 they settled in St. John Vianney Parish, Gladwyne, where Flanagan served as a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. He also entered the Church Ministry Institute at St. Charles Seminary, with the intention of studying for the permanent diaconate, an idea he shelved when the CLI became the focus of his Church ministry. After eight years in Gladwyne he and his wife relocated to St. Katharine of Siena Parish, Wayne, where they still reside.
Flanagan, who received the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute’s prestigious Sourin Award on April 21, conceived of the idea of what would grow into the CLI at a Fortune 500 executive leadership retreat he attended in New Mexico in 1990.
He wondered, if the skills taught at the retreat could help one become a successful leader in the business world, could they be adapted to serve the Lord by developing leadership skills within the Church?
When he approached then-Msgr. now Bishop Robert P. Maginnis with the idea, Msgr. Maginnis suggested he contact the late Father Charles Pfeffer, who was then archdiocesan director for Youth and Young Adults. He did, and the rest is history.
For the first decade of its existence, a course was offered at Camp Neumann along with weekend retreats for young adults. This work expanded into a one-year formation program for young adults. After 10 years there was a shift toward adult ministry and ultimately, clergy ministry.
Father Pfeffer, Flanagan said, “was a wonderful human being, passionate about his ministry and a visionary kind of leader. He was a good one for bringing people together. I brought the leadership program but didn’t know many people in the Church. He brought the contacts. That’s why we made a good partnership.”
Through CLI, Flanagan’s own mission in life radically changed.
“I had a significant discernment process,” he said. “I clearly feel called to serve the Church through the work I am doing in developing Catholic leadership.”
Retired from the financial world, Flanagan remains the full-time board chairman for CLI. He notes its president, Matt Manion, and many others associated with the work came out of the original youth and young adult programs.
“Our mission is building Catholic leaders for today and tomorrow,” Flanagan said. “Our vision is to see a world where each inspanidual understands their God-given mission in life and is doing their best to fulfill it.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.