By Guest Blogger Dr. Jerry Deegan
When my good friend Dr. Tom Neal asked me to share some of my thoughts on Faith and Leadership I said yes because I thought it would be a good chance for me to stop and reflect on just how faith and leadership are connected for me and who taught me that connection.
From Mom to Manager
I grew up in a family of 12 children. My dad was a farmer who raised sheep, farmed 500 acres of land and flew an airplane for a hobby. As you can imagine my mom was a full-time stay a home mom raising a very large family. My mom and dad grew up on farms less than a mile away from each other and went to country school together. On June 22nd, 1960 our family’s world turned upside down when my dad died of a heart attack at 48 years old. My mom went from being a partner in managing a family to managing a farm and large family all by herself. My youngest brother was just 3 months old, I was 10, and my oldest sister was 20 when my dad died. To this day I cannot imagine what it was like for mom to lose the love of her life and be left with such daunting responsibilities to handle all by herself.
Faith in the Face of Tragedy
Today, my mom is 94 years old and still lives on the farm she and dad bought in 1939. Since my dad’s death, two of my brothers have died. Mike in a plane crash on Thanksgiving Day when he was 21 years old, and Larry of an aneurysm at 40 years old. My mother has had her share of tragedy in her life and I had a front row seat to see how faith helped her get through. She has helped many of us raise our children and has never stopped being a caretaker. Mom taught all of us that our Catholic faith was very important and the key to life. All 12 children attended Catholic school from 1st through 12th grade. We were taught that Mom or Dad loved us and that what they said was the law; that God had a plan for each of us; that we needed to work hard if we expected to get ahead in life; that we can’t expect things to be given to us; and that education was our ticket in life.
I marvel at my mom’s strength and have learned much from her. She faced difficult decisions in life but she kept the faith and stayed focused on being positive no matter what challenges life offered her. She maintained a strong sense of humor and continues to see the good in people and life. Where does she get these qualities? Her faith! Mom is not showy about her faith. She lives the words of St. Francis of Assisi who said “Preach the Gospel; and if necessary, use words.” Today she struggles with a bad set of knees that limits her mobility but she maintains her positive outlook on life. I kid her that she spent so much time on her knees praying during her life that she has worn them out!
Thanks to my Mom, counting grade school, high school and my working life, I’ve been in Catholic schools for 57 years. During those years I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to learn about leadership in the context of faith. I‘ve met people, like my Mom, who have shown me what faith is and how to live a life of faith not matter what role I play. My faith has grown and it has helped me lead through difficult decisions and has been there to help be grateful for the many blessings I have received in my life…the most important being my Mom and her teaching me the importance of faith.