Become the Spiritual CEO Your Catholic School Needs

Navigating Challenges and Embracing Formation for Effective Spiritual Leadership

December 2023


Catholic school leaders are responsible for academic success, financial stability, and most importantly, spiritual dynamism at the institutions they lead. While Catholic schools have become increasingly adept at school management and academics, the issue of spiritual leadership can be a challenge for the increasing number of laypeople who fill these leadership roles.

In this article, you will hear firsthand from spiritual leaders about challenges and practical solutions to lead your school as the Spiritual CEO. Plus, download a white paper with more concrete ways to support you in your leadership.

The Responsibilities of School Leaders

Catholic school leaders serve as business leaders, running the school, managing enrollments, and handling board governance. They also serve as academic leaders, overseeing curriculum and assessments. But the most important part of a president’s job is the spiritual leadership of the school. A Catholic school leader must convey this spiritual leadership to the community. Catholic identity is our key differentiator.

The Challenges Faced by Spiritual Leaders

The role of today’s Catholic school leader can be challenging. There are many obstacles to managing the important responsibilities of the job, including a lack of formation, the ongoing need for spiritual nourishment, and a climate of polarization that they must navigate.

Lack of Formation

Whereas historically Catholic schools were led by clergy and religious women, today more than 90% of Catholic schools are led by laypeople, who may not bring extensive spiritual formation to the role like their predecessors did. This lack of prior and ongoing formation is a formidable challenge for Catholic schools and those who lead them. As more lay people head up Catholic schools, how can they spiritually lead these institutions? Ongoing formation is an essential component.

The Need for Spiritual Nourishment

Catholic school leadership can be a difficult journey, and this journey requires spiritual nourishment from multiple sources every step of the way. Catholic school leaders must make time and seek out this nourishment outside of school, through opportunities and mentors. While few are receiving spiritual direction, in a survey of Catholic school leaders, a majority expressed that they wanted to be.


A national climate of polarization, including political discord, contributes to the challenges that Catholic school leaders face and must navigate. Leading with faith and vision means being aware of polarizing issues and managing them thoughtfully with faculty and staff, students, and families.

Spiritual CEO-building Practices

Acknowledging the challenges that Catholic school leaders face allows them to be intentional about practices that help them overcome obstacles and spiritually lead their communities. These practices, suggested by veteran Catholic school leaders, provide a practical perspective for Catholic school leaders to consider as they grow as spiritual leaders in their own Catholic schools.

In their white paper, An Empty Chair at the Catholic School Table, authors Rob Birdsell‚ÄĒPresident of Catholic Virtual, host of the podcast, The Next Class 2.0, Founder & Executive Director of the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship in Education (ILEE)‚ÄĒand Kent Hickey‚ÄĒDirector of Faith Formation at ILEE and Senior Search Consultant at Carney, Sandoe & Associates‚ÄĒpropose a plan to provide the essential formation that Catholic school leaders need to become Spiritual CEOs. Discover practical solutions that offer leaders meaningful preparation programs to master the ‚ÄúCEO‚ÄĚ part of the job, and ongoing opportunities to live and work as spiritual beings leading very human institutions through personal prayer, access to spiritual direction, and immersion experiences in communities.
Download Whitepaper

Additional solutions for Spiritual CEOs are suggested in the remainder of this article, excerpted from a virtual panel discussion lead by Rob Birdsell and the following experienced Spiritual CEOs:

  • Michael Gomez, the founding Principal of Cristo Rey Philadelphia and current president of St. Peter‚Äôs Prep in Jersey City. Michael received his PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Jill Platt, a 30-year veteran teacher and administrator in Catholic schools and current President of Notre Dame College Prep in Phoenix. Jill received her Masters in Educational Leadership from Loyola University Chicago.
  • Kent Hickey, a 30-year Catholic high school leader in the states of Wisconsin, Washington and California. Author of‚ÄĮ40 Days with God, Kent received his JD and Masters in Educational Leadership from Marquette University.

Spiritual Practices Can Help

Having spiritual practices in place is so important. Catholic school leaders are spiritual beings navigating an often stressful, administrative job. As you offer pastoral faith presence, even as lay leaders, it’s crucial to consistently nurture your spiritual development.

Personal prayer is essential, as is cultivating a culture of prayer within the community. A Catholic school leader’s personal prayer life affects leadership at school. Consider starting the morning with devotional prayer and meditation. Whenever possible, make time to pray, begin meetings with prayer, and build your own prayer life as you provide and engage in prayerful practices as a community.

Hear from Jill Platt‚ÄĮon the way that prayer supports her in her spiritual leadership.

Celebrating Mass and offering frequent opportunities for faculty, staff, students, and families to participate at Mass is so important. Consider having a eucharistic procession and Adoration for your community to experience the wholeness of the Eucharist.

Hear Kent Hickey talk about the way that the Liturgy of the Hours supports him as a spiritual leader.

Formation, Formation, Formation!

Seeking out ongoing formation for Spiritual CEOs is vital. With many Catholic school leaders being laypeople, extensive formation is needed before leading their community.

Likewise, ongoing faith formation should be provided for faculty and staff, particularly new staff. Having a team in place to support with formation brings unique ideas that can benefit the entire school. When providing formation, concentrate on different areas to fill staff with the faith so that they can be Christlike in the classroom and share out to the students.

Investments in retreats and formation experiences for adults, including board members and staff, are invaluable for the spiritual life and relationships within your community.

Find Mentorship and Community

School leaders serving as Spiritual CEOs should have a mentor and be part of a community. Find a mentor that relates to your unique challenges and strengths who can guide and advise you as you navigate your role and seek out spiritual direction. Similarly, rely on those with expertise when you need clarification, whether theological or spiritual.

Building Relationships

As Catholic school leaders, it is essential to get to know your community: students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff. Knowing the people whom you serve makes your job more meaningful but also makes you more effective at reaching the individuals you serve, whether you are providing a closing reflection at Mass or holding a meeting.

Each interaction is important; when we believe God is in all things and all people, even the smallest encounter sends a message. The entire community is watching leaders so they must model Gospel values, care, and love for each student and faculty member. Intentionally providing social opportunities to build comradery among faculty and staff, boards, and students and families also buoys your community for tough times and polarization.

Hear from Michael Gomez on ways that spiritual leaders can address the issue of polarization in school.

Sometimes loving students and staff also means holding them accountable. During challenging times when Catholic school leaders must make hard decisions, leading with love provides clarity and direction.

Consider Symbolic Leadership

Beyond your own actions as a spiritual leader, the environment you cultivate within your community also speaks to your community’s values and culture. Statues, key phrases, and other environmental reminders contribute to the school’s spiritual culture that Catholic school leaders reflect to their communities.

Rely on the Scriptures and Sacred Writings

Reading spiritually and seeking inspiration from the Scriptures can support Catholic school leaders as Spiritual CEOs. Decompress with lectio divina. Turn to the Gospels and to the mystics to help you fill yourself spiritually. Perform a daily examen as you walk home or end your day to prepare you for the challenges ahead.

Shared Mission

When all the members of your community are clear on the mission of your school, a mission that you embody as leader, there is unity of purpose. Consider having a ‚Äúmission moment,‚ÄĚ when a member of your student body reminds the community or the board of the school‚Äôs mission and the way that it is being lived out in and beyond school. When the entire community is grounded in spirituality, everything flows from that.

Watch the entire conversation about spiritual leadership in The Spiritual CEO of Your Catholic School panel discussion, led by Rob Birdsell, President of Catholic Virtual. In it, Michael Gomez, Jill Platt, and Kent Hickey share ideas and tips for spiritually leading your school or dioceses with confidence.

Watch Now
The stakes are high for Catholic school leaders. Catholic schools seek to provide a transformative education to students that includes mind, heart, soul, and character. Leaders are accountable for these high stakes. Keeping the school grounded in faith and mission, and leading out of love and their calling, empowers Catholic school leaders to lead as Spiritual CEOs. But they must also seek out formation and the support of the community as they establish practices to grow and lead in these roles.  

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    Let Us Help You

    We can help you find the right online learning solution for your school or family. Complete this form and we will contact you right away.

    Or, Contact Us by Phone

    U.S.: 1-772-783-1178
    Int'l: 1-772-293-9657


      Fill out the form below:

      We promise to keep your information private. Providing your phone number indicates you are giving consent to representatives from Catholic Virtual to contact you via phone and/or text.

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