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As an institution, the Catholic Church is organized hierarchically, with clear lines of authority that have developed over centuries. The bishops and archbishops who have led the church in the greater Boston area have had an enduring impact. Not only did they make critical decisions concerning the parishes, schools, and social service agencies of the church, but most of them also served in their office for extended terms. Boston’s bishops have generally had very long tenures. The result has been an administrative and historical continuity for the local church more seamless than that of other places and institutions.
In the two centuries since the first bishop was appointed in 1808, there have been just nine bishops and archbishops of Boston. All were white males; all were celibate Catholic priests. Allowing for their particular circumstances, they all had a similar religious education and training, and their early priestly careers gave them many of the same experiences in serving the spiritual and other needs of Catholic lay people. Even so, each prelate had his own personality, his own strengths and weaknesses, and had to meet challenges that were peculiar to his own era. Each had his own administrative and pastoral style and his own conception of what the job of a Catholic bishop ought to be. Looking at each one on his own terms opens the way to understanding each of them, but it also contributes to the formation of a collective view. The experiences of each may describe the past, but they also mark out a path to the future, as the church of Boston faces new challenges in its third century.
"Leadership is critical in any organization. The organization's survival, its ability to accomplish its mission and to thrive through time, depends to no small degree on the individuals who assume the responsibility for overseeing it. They are not alone, of course. In large and complex organizations, many other people also contribute to the effort, and broad support and participation are no less essential than direction from the top. What might be called "followership" is just as important, and cooperation between leaders and those who are led will determine success or failure. But leaders have a special responsibility, and the decisions they make will therefore determine the character and the work of the larger whole. For this reason, the history of any organization can be understood by studying the succession of leaders and their relationship to those below." - James O'Toole's essay, Boston's Catholics and Their Bishops: A Comparative View. Read more in the book preview.
RESOURCES ABOUT LEADERSHIP IN THE CHURCH
*From the film, Making our Place: A History of Women at Boston College, which chronicles the history of women at the University, from the first women students who served as pioneers to women who have gone on to serve as leaders on campus and alumnae who have made an impact in the community at large.
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