7 Questions with Stephanie Burke

Name: Stephanie Burke

Current title: Executive Director

Current organisation: Avila Institute & Foundation

Stephanie Burke serves as the Executive Director of the Avila Foundation which serves the Church through the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, the High Calling Seminary Preparation Program and SpiritualDirection.com. Stephanie is co-host, along with her husband Dan, of EWTN’s Divine Intimacy Radio. She has successfully served in school administration for over 25 years in both Catholic and secular institutions. Stephanie has committed her life to the study, formation and promotion of authentic Catholic spirituality.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?

The most challenging aspect of school leadership is a healthy life balance. "You can't give what you don't have" so maintaining a healthy lifestyle grounded in prayer and peace is essential to being able to love and serve others well.

2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

"Ora et Labora" Pray and work. I begin my day with morning prayer before dawn, followed by daily mass, exercise if I can before setting into my work day. I live by a rule of life where I have worked out how I will Love God and then Love Neighbor (starting with my husband, family and then everyone else) each day. I check myself against this plan (examine prayer) each evening in thanksgiving to God for what went well and asking for forgiveness where I fell short.

3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Assume the best and be merciful to a fault. It is important to believe and see that each person entrusted to me is in some fashion or another doing what they believe is best. Receiving this as true and then loving with mercy to a higher standard where needed is the best approach in my experience. We need to coach well and give those in our care lots of room to grow into who God is calling them to be. Each one of us is on a journey to God and we are a work in progress. It's important to see this and know this and love people in service from this place each day.

4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Spiritual Warfare and Discernment of Spirits by Dan Burke. :) The rules of St. Ignatius and living them out in my daily life and decisions has been a game changer in all ways. Once I was able to see how the enemy distorts communication and divides and destroys and how to combat it, it profoundly changed my approach to leadership. It helped me in my desire to serve well and to bring God's love into the everyday work of school leadership. Where people feel loved, valued and affirmed, God can move mountains to do great things. It's living the Kingdom here on earth.

5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?

Lots of prayer and trust first of all that God will bring them. I have also always asked candidates to tell me about their faith journey, if they have a personal relationship with Our Lord, half the battle is won. Secondly, where our compensation may fall short, we try to make up with quality of life, especially spiritually. We pray together as a staff, go on retreat and recently make the switch to give everyone holy days of obligation off from work so they could observe these days with their families. It's had a huge payoff in terms of peace, appreciation and supernatural blessings from the Lord on our work in honoring these days... I firmly believe this!

6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?

Creating an environment where prayer and dependence on the Lord is natural and normal. Where there is prayer... love, peace, forgiveness, joy, and purpose abound.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a Christian school leader so far?

There are too many to recount, but one beautiful one was a broken family that brought their middle school aged daughter to my school years ago when I was a school principal. She was floundering and in danger of falling into the wrong crowd and going the wrong way. We took her in and helped her along. Years later when she graduated, she was confident, good, happy and hardworking. Her parents, still separated, were immensely grateful and their pride and joy was seeing their beautiful daughter succeed where they themselves had failed. I felt that God was working to heal their family through the transformation of their daughter. I still have her picture and sweet note from the family to this day and pray for them.