City Mission employee June Roman (second from l.) shares his testimonial as part of The Institute for Pastoral Leaders training program on July 20 at the City Mission of Schenectady. He is joined by Mark Brucker (from l.), Sarah Semo and Terrence Montanye. (Cindy Schultz photo)
City Mission employee June Roman (second from l.) shares his testimonial as part of The Institute for Pastoral Leaders training program on July 20 at the City Mission of Schenectady. He is joined by Mark Brucker (from l.), Sarah Semo and Terrence Montanye. (Cindy Schultz photo)
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June Roman didn’t think he’d survive to see today.

“To be honest, I thought I would be dead right now,” he said. “That’s what I thought was going to be my future … but God had other plans for me.”

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, Roman faced countless hardships in his battle for a sense of security. As a young adult, Roman was a leader of a prominent gang and later served time in prison for 15 years. After years of turmoil, he emerged from the system unsure of where to go. That’s when he found the City Mission of Schenectady. 

Roman, now ministry outreach coordinator for the City Mission, spoke alongside three fellow employees who shared their life stories at the latest gathering of The Institute for Pastoral Leaders. The institute, run by Siena College’s Institute for Leadership Development, held its second group gathering since its launch in May on July 20, at The Century House in Latham with a visit to the City Mission.

“It was an honor and privilege to share my pain and past so individuals know there is hope for this pain,” Roman said. “I have a brighter future and I can share that with guests who are coming in with this trauma and share that hope with them. So to share that with you guys was a blessing and an honor.”

The Institute for Pastoral Leaders — which is made up of nearly 50 participants, ranging from parish staff to clergy to Catholic school principals — is helping to teach leaders of the Albany Diocese how to understand and minister to people on the margins through trauma-informed leadership training. The institute is overseen by five Siena faculty members involved in the Institute for Leadership Development, and is funded by a $499,402 grant (titled “Trauma-Informed Leadership Development Program”) from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, which the college applied for and must use this year.

The institute was open to 45 people in leadership positions in the Diocese. When the application window opened, nearly 90 applications were received, almost double the allotted slots. In the end, 48 people were selected for the training.

“People don’t always get the training that they need for the job that they’re in,” said Charles Seifert, professor of management and dean of the School of Business at Siena.

Most clergy or pastoral leaders hope to serve as a helper to those in need but may struggle with how to connect or empathize with individuals who are facing homelessness or abuse, things that they may not have battled themselves.

“This isn’t just a diocesan problem, that we tell people, ‘Do something’ without giving them the background and skills needed to be successful,” Seifert said. “And all you’re doing is setting them up for disappointment and potential failure.”

“I’m hoping to be able to learn how to relate to people better,” said Cindy Reles, pastoral associate for Annunciation Church in Ilion. “How to bring them closer to God and to encourage our parishioners and others to work with us and to build the parish community.”

Father Paul Catena, pastor of Annunciation Church in Ilion and Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church in Frankfort, hoped that this training would help encourage others in his churches to step up and fill leadership roles.

“I definitely need that kind of help because there’s too much for me to do alone,” said Father Catena. “This leadership training is really helpful because it’s helping me understand more (about) my own self, you know the emotional intelligence piece. The leadership personality piece especially has been really helpful ... in having a better understanding of my own self, and how I can impact others and where I kind of need to change so that the Lord can work more effectively through me.”

Pastoral leaders discussed what a trauma-informed perspective is and practiced exercises on emotional intelligence at their first group meeting in June. David Liebschutz, facilitator for the Institute for Pastoral Leaders and visiting assistant business professor and Mother Cabrini Grant coordinator at Siena, said that participants had to put rubber to the road at City Mission, talking and learning from individuals with trauma experiences.

“So what we want to do this morning is we want to pull these things together, practically, visually, and ‘praying with our feet’ as we think of how those things come together,” said Liebschutz.

The pastoral leaders started at Century House for a quick debrief of the day before busing over to the Cornerstone Chapel inside the City Mission. City Mission staff delivered powerful personal testimonies to the group about their life stories, ranging from incidents of abuse and alcoholism to drug addiction and serving time in prison. But each story of struggle turned into a powerful tale of recovery and finding strength and overcoming their traumas. 

The group took questions from the audience, many of whom wanted to know how they can relate to or assist people in their parish community who might be facing similar abuse or trauma.

“That says there’s a desire for life-long learning and continued development,” Seifert said. “And this falls in line very well with the Catholic intellectual tradition. Continuing to build information and tying it all back to God, and the compilation and growth of that information. So I think it’s very positive that there’s that desire.”

The institute will host six day-long customizable sessions — with large group meetings and smaller breakout groups — once a month for in-person training and discussion. The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24 at The Century House.

“We need leaders that just don’t have a title to it,” Roman said. “We need leaders to live it out. That’s the difference. Everybody wants that, that spotlight. ... I want to be on the ground floor. I want to be with the people hurting. You know what I mean, but that’s what we need. We need leaders that are living it out, that are living examples, telling them, listen, there is a way out.”