The Time is Now

Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative addresses growing need for pastoral formation of Hispanic/Latino Catholics

Before Yazmín Saldívar-Pérez joined the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative, she had never taken part in a program specifically designed to form leaders like her — a Latina.

As project coordinator for the offices of Hispanic and Ethnic Ministry and Young Adult and Campus Ministry in the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois, Saldívar-Pérez was one of about 20 Hispanic/Latino leaders in the Diocese of Joliet who took part in the inaugural cohort of the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative.

“This [Initiative] is an amazing opportunity to develop professionally and personally and to use these strengths and gifts as an offering to the Church,” Saldívar-Pérez said.

Yazmín Saldívar-Pérez


Leadership Roundtable created the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative in response to the growing and unique needs of Hispanic/Latino pastoral leaders witnessed through our work with dioceses across the United States and the National V Encuentro process. It was developed thanks to generous seed funding from Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry Initiative and other donors.

The news of the Thriving in Ministry grant gave hope to Catholic Hispanic/Latino clergy and lay leaders that recognized the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative as a promising opportunity that will have a lasting effect on the development of Hispanic/Latino ministry leadership in the United States.

“For too long, we as a Church have underinvested in Latino leadership,” said Michael Brough, Executive Partner who oversees the Initiative and also works directly with participants in their leadership formation.

The major issues facing pastoral leaders are often more pronounced for Hispanic/Latino leaders — from managing Church finances, operations, and human resources, to serving community needs — due in part to a lack of resources and cultural barriers.

Despite the broad lack of investment in Hispanic/Latino leadership to date, about 36% of U.S. Catholics identify as Latino. Yet only around 3% of pastors and one in 10 lay leaders are Hispanic/Latino.

Leadership Roundtable recognized the many gifts and talents that Hispanics/Latinos bring to the Catholic Church in the United States and believed it was critical for Catholic institutions to assist Hispanic/Latino pastoral leaders to thrive in their vocations and, thus, support the well-being of the congregations in which they minister.

Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, who serves as a member of the National Advisory Committee for the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative and as Distinguished Scholar of Pastoral Theology and Latino Studies at Loyola Marymount University, said the vibrant, committed Hispanic/Latino community within the Catholic Church in the United States is being called to lead in carrying out the Church’s mission.

“The Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative gives participants the tools to serve in many leadership capacities, including as pastors, parish staff, and lay ministers,” he said.

In January 2021, Leadership Roundtable officially began working with Hispanic/Latino leaders in the Diocese of Joliet. In June, the Initiative expanded with a second cohort in the Diocese of St. Augustine in Florida, and grew again in November with a third cohort in the Diocese of Austin, Texas.

The Initiative supports Hispanic/Latino leaders to build a foundation of best practices to nurture a vocational identity and praxis as pastoral leaders. The Initiative inspires Hispanic/Latino leaders to see themselves as “co-participants in a community of practice,” creating opportunities for peer-to-peer engagement. The Initiative provides Hispanic/Latino leaders not only access to critical capacity-building skills but ensures that those skills are both culturally appropriate and address the often complex pastoral environments of these leaders.

For those who work for the Church, the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative has been transformative, helping them become stronger in their ministry.

“It made me a better leader,” said Manuela Botello, a leader who took part in the Joliet cohort.

When the participants in the inaugural cohort in the Diocese of Joliet were asked whether the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative equipped them with the tools and skills to work more effectively in their current ministry, 94% responded “absolutely” or “very much so.” And when asked if the Initiative increased their confidence to negotiate challenges in their ministry, 100% responded “absolutely” or “very much so.”

Manuela Botello


Few other avenues exist for lay leaders and clergy to collectively build the relationships and culture that allow for open dialogue, honest encounter, and listening — especially for those who are Hispanic/Latino.

As a lay leader, Saldívar-Pérez said she valued how the Initiative provided participants the ability to learn in small groups with clergy and one another as peers.

“It was encouraging to know that we all have strengths and weaknesses, regardless of our titles, degrees, or positions,” she said.

In the Diocese of Joliet, Hispanic/Latino leaders have already begun to implement their newly acquired skills by helping to facilitate the work of parishes in the global Synod process.

Joliet’s current Bishop Ronald A. Hicks told the participants during the closing Mass of the program that “Your participation in this course is important for the life of the Church, and for yourselves, because growing in wisdom and learning about yourself and leadership is something that you can not only use in the life of the Church but also in life in general.”

Leadership Roundtable incorporated into the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative elements of our Catholic Leadership 360 program — which offers leaders access to feedback from those who work closely with them in a respectful, structured way that has been shown to contribute to the success of Catholic pastoral leaders — as well as Peer Group Coaching. The program also included a comprehensive introduction to the Toolbox for Pastoral Management in a workshop-style series of presentations that provided practical, ready-to-use tools, and training for participants in the Catholic Standards for Excellence.

To identify the cohorts for the Initiative, Leadership Roundtable issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to all dioceses in the United States and to leaders of Hispanic/Latino ministries in 2020. Dioceses across the United States responded with interest with 14 submitting completed applications to become a cohort.

Since launching, the Initiative has garnered media attention, with outlets like National Catholic Reporter featuring both the inaugural cohort in Joliet and the expansion to St. Augustine. It has also caught the attention of more and more Church leaders. As the Initiative has grown and awareness of it has spread, additional interested dioceses have contacted Leadership Roundtable about participating.

Leadership Roundtable plans to continue to grow the Initiative in the years ahead. Lilly Endowment and other donors continue to invest in the Initiative, which is on track to further expand in upcoming years with additional cohorts.


This piece was originally published in Leadership Roundtable’s 2021 Annual Impact Report.


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