“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”
Evangelii Gaudium n27
What role can Jesuit Higher Education play in supporting this bold vision for a missionary, outward facing Church that is not just reformed, but transformed in every dimension? In this dream for a synodal Church, Pope Francis challenges clerical privilege, autocratic bureaucracy, and the defensive, institutional centricity still characteristic of much of the Church today. Rather, Pope Francis calls the Church to conversion at the personal, communal, and structural levels and calls forth a distinct kind of authority and leadership going forward.
It is Pope Francis’ call and his request for the Society of Jesus to share the gift of discernment that inspired the founding of the Program for Discerning Leadership a special project of the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) in collaboration with the Office of Discernment and Apostolic Planning at the Jesuit General Curia, Le Moyne College, Georgetown University, ESADE, and the Pontifical Gregorian University, as well as the Union of Superiors General and the International Union of Superiors General.
The first Program for Discerning Leadership was sponsored by the Office of Discernment and Apostolic Planning at the General Curia and offered as a pilot in 2019 with 30 carefully selected participants. The program brought together men and women from over 20 different countries around the world, including personnel from varied Vatican Dicasteries, Superiors General of different Female and Male Orders and Congregations and some members of the Jesuit General Council.
After the initial pilot of the cohort based, two module program, Fr. General Sosa formally instituted the Program of Discerning Leadership as a special project of the IAJU, working in partnership with the Office of Discernment and Apostolic Planning in the General Curia of the Society of Jesus, and the Gregorian University. Georgetown University, ESADE Business School and Le Moyne College generously contribute to the Program by offering lecturers and staff to facilitate the Course Modules in Rome in both English and Spanish. The Gregorian University supports the Discerning Leadership Program by offering course meeting rooms, facilities and spaces, and supplies faculty resources where this is called for.
The Program actively engages participants through a range of spiritual practices from the Catholic faith and temporal tools taken from the disciplines of management and business. From guided reflections, “spiritual conversations,” and practice of discernment individually and in common, the program is grounded in a commitment to deepening trust, which leads to an environment conducive to team spirit, peer learning and community. Leadership that is marked by discernment implies a holistic way of living and, according to Father Sosa, and enables participants “to enter in communion in the only body whose head is Christ.” This transformed leadership is more characterized by listening than speaking, and approaches decision making as a creative and collaborative exercise for the service of the world and especially those who are most marginalised.
The Program will facilitate and support the participants in maturing the attitudes, skills, and knowledge required to lead in a synodal manner, i.e., in a way of proceeding that is discerning, process oriented, collaborative, and creative. In defining leadership competencies that include communications, conflict management, strategy, change management, human resource management, we do not intend to substitute what participants might learn through an MBA program, but rather, help them understand and practice the integration of these skills in a discerning, reflective manner that involves prayer as an essential feature. We believe that Church leaders enabled and empowered to lead in this manner will over time transform the Church and enact the synodal ecclesial community that Pope Francis is calling for. We want a church that is at the frontiers. IAJU is playing its part.