This blog originally appeared in this week’s Catholic School Matters.

Last month, retired Seattle Archbishop Alexander Brunett passed away at the age of 86. You can read a Seattle Times article about him here. When I read Thanks for the Feedback last year, I took to heart the author’s idea that we need to listen for the message behind feedback—even if it seems untrue, unfair, and/or poorly delivered. The authors brought me back to an unfortunate day in 2004 when I found myself in Archbishop Brunett’s office.


I had applied to be a principal and thought I was meeting with the Archbishop so he could confirm the search committee’s choice. But I soon found myself being interrogated about Catholic identity. Archbishop Brunett made his vision for Catholic identity very clear—more priestly vocations, crosses and other religious symbols widely visible, uniforms, and devotions. At that time, I saw those symbols as window dressing and not nearly important as every student having a personal encounter with Jesus, every student finding his/her own place in the world, religion classes being relevant, and all feeling called to holiness. I found myself defending Vatican II and questioned whether his vision was still relevant.

We were two ships passing in the night, each holding to our own version–either/or, black/white, and each of us maintaining that the other was wrong. We argued. He was offended that I refused to back down. It was my first face-to-face meeting with an archbishop who was MY archbishop at the time. He was condescending and insulting. I was shaken that my shepherd was accusing me of not being Catholic enough. However, he was partly right.


I didn’t listen for the feedback, didn’t appreciate his perspective, didn’t see that it wasn’t an “either/or” but a “both/and.” I didn’t need to be a martyr for the cause of Vatican II. I needed to listen to his concerns and respond accordingly. Reading Stone & Heen’s book forced me to reexamine that disappointing episode and mine it for lessons. I came to realize that my vision for Catholic identity wasn’t wrong, it just wasn’t the only vision.


Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. It was a bitterly disappointing day and caused me to question whether I really belonged as a Catholic school principal and a lay leader in the church. I wish I had learned the lessons of Thanks for the Feedback two decades ago so that I could have handled the disappointment better. Eventually, my resentment toward Archbishop Brunett dissipated as I grew to appreciate that his forceful personality led to many positive changes in the archdiocese.


Some lessons take a few years to really learn. I’m grateful for the lesson Archbishop Brunett taught me back in 2004 and I pray for his eternal rest.