Conference presents students with tips for effective Catholic leadership


Over the weekend of Jan. 17-18, Franciscan University of Steubenville held its annual leadership conference in the Gentile Gallery, which featured keynotes from experienced business leaders, diocesan workers and department heads. 

Co-hosted by Franciscan’s Masters in Catholic Leadership program, the School of Professional Programs and the Center for Leadership, the packed conference opened on Friday afternoon with a talk by certified personal business analyst Steve Gavatorta titled “Leveraging Brain Functionality and Emotional Intelligence for Effective Leadership.” 

Gavatorta spoke on making rational responses in the face of adversity and stress rather than acting on a fight or flight reaction. 

Next was an evening keynote by certified personal behavior analyst Holly Joy McIlwain (Franciscan 03), who holds a faculty position at the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and specializes in strength development. 

McIlwain guided her audience through various interactive activities which explored methods of incorporating one’s natural talents and strengths into effective and professional leadership. 

“We can get … so good at our strengths that we can find ways to use our strengths to solve problems that some people would use a weakness to solve,” McIlwain said. “It’s mind blowing, but it’s also science.” 

After McIlwain’s talk, Brother Daniel Maria Klimek, TOR, led a holy hour in Christ the King Chapel, during which he gave an encouraging homily about inspirational leaders of the past. 

The next morning, Lt. Sam Blair, Franciscan alumnus and professor of naval leadership at the United States Naval Academy, spoke on bold and Catholic leadership. Blair emphasized grit, hardiness and resiliency and the importance of cultivating these qualities in order to lead well. 

After Blair’s keynote, men and women broke into separate panels, allowing space for attendees to ask questions about how to be a man or a woman in a leadership position. The men’s panel included David Schmiesing, vice president of Student Life; Ronald McNamara, coordinator of student leadership development; and Blair.

The women’s panel was hosted by McIlwain, Marita O’Brien, who holds a doctorate in psychology, and Mary Kathryn McVey and Susan Poyo, who both hold doctorates in education. 

Sophomore Grace Cech had high praise for the conference. “This conference was a great reminder for me of what was important in life and what I should be prioritizing during what will be a very busy semester,” Cech said.

I was struck by how all of the presenters talked about their personal relationship with God as the source of their confidence and leadership,” Cech said. If there’s one piece of advice that I would carry away from this conference it is that leadership is not a position, but rather, a disposition,’ (as McIlwain said). There is so much more to leadership than just being in charge of something, and we as Catholics are called to a lifestyle of servant leadership that Christ modeled for us. 

The conference ended with Christ the King’s Saturday daily Mass, which reminded students in leadership positions on campus that their own leadership ultimately comes from God.