Formation for Collaborative Leadership

Posted July 8, 2021

Sister Margaret Fielding, RSHM, Institute Leader
Address to Participants

It’s a joy for me to meet you as you come to the end of your course in collaborative leadership (Academia de Liderança Colaborativa). What a wonderful initiative it was, Maria Teresa,  to bring together our Sisters from Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, France and even our novitiate(!) along with our lay collaborators from various groups and works in our Portuguese Province. The diversity of backgrounds and experiences within the group must have been very enriching and energising.

I don’t need to convince you of the importance of this course.  You’ve experienced it for yourselves, during these past six months as you met, shared, gained new insights and learned new skills and felt the bonds between you grow and deepen – and now you are ready to put all you’ve learned into practice.

Leadership for mission has always been an important dimension of RSHM training and formation. Today, in a time of rapid change, its importance cannot be overstated. Founded in the mid-19thcentury, our Institute’s structures mirrored those of the society and Church of the time: leadership was hierarchically structured   As the Institute grew and spread to several countries, its strength came not so much from this external ordering but from its inner structure of unity, which Fr. Gailhac insisted upon, a unity based on a spirit of faith and trust between the Sisters and those in leadership and among the Sisters themselves. That spirit of unity has continued throughout our history.

Today, as we know, democratically elected leadership is the norm in society and, since the second Vatican Council, the more accepted image of Church is the People of God, the community of disciples, followers of Jesus.   Leadership in our Institute is understood as service of others for the building up of unity of the body, requiring the participation of all the members, through personal and communal discernment, searching together for the will of God for the group. This is collaborative leadership.

Collaborative leadership is essential today. There is a growing recognition in our world  highlighted during the Covid pandemic –  that people are dependent on each other and that in responding to the great challenges of our age, we do better when we work together. Issues such as global health, inequality, climate change, etc. cannot be solved by countries acting alone. International cooperation is needed more and more, in facing today’s challenges.

Our world is increasingly interconnected, interdependent and multicultural, but at the same time deeply divided by inequality, discrimination and exclusion. Leadership, in that context, to be effective, must be inclusive and collaborative. Christian leaders in particular, who are committed to bringing  about the transformation of society – the reign of God –  must foster unity in diversity, build bridges, engage in collaborative projects, encourage partnerships and networks,  add their voices to those of other groups in speaking out against systems of injustice and exclusion and working to make the world a better place. Under Pope Francis’ leadership, the Church today, is being firmly directed along that path, a synodal path, where all have a voice,  all are called to assume responsibility for the future of our world, all are invited to ‘dare to dream…dare to create something new’ (Let us Dream p.6)

We, RSHM and lay colleagues, are part of the Church, with its global outreach.  We are not a multi-national company or organisation but a community of faith, a community of disciples, companions on the journey, lay colleagues and Sisters working together, walking closely with our people, building relationships of compassion and solidarity, justice and reconciliation. Our mission is  a shared one. With you – our lay colleagues, our Global Network of Schools, our Extended Family, and many other groups – we carry forward the mission of Christ, that all may have life.  Many of you have been entrusted with leadership in our schools, social centres, care centres, retreat houses, community residences and you share our charism and the spirit of faith and zeal of our founder Jean Gailhac and our founding sisters. In a world where individualism and self-fulfilment are keenly pursued, your leadership is, and must be, a leadership of service. We are all called to this and to work together, rather than falling into the temptation of thinking we can do it all ourselves. TOGETHER WE ARE BETTER – RSHM and lay colleagues supporting and enriching one another, giving and receiving from one another and reaching out to all, especially those on the margins of life, those who are lost, wounded, excluded.

God’s Spirit is clearly calling us to new ways of being together in our world today, and to respond to the call, we need that unity, that faith and trust in one another that Fr. Gailhac asked of our first Sisters … WE NEED EACH OTHER, to dream together, to discern together and to articulate a shared vision for mission, based on Gospel priorities. Together we can bring about the dream of God for our world.  This is the leadership shown by Pope Francis – as seen in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti where he shares his  vision of society as deeply imbued with the spirit of the Gospel –  his dream of peopleeverywhere becoming sisters and brothers to one another, moving from conflict to communion, building bridges, creating a universal fraternity (cf. FT216).

‘We collaborate with others as we journey together’. (Doc. Cap. Geral 2019) we state in our recent Chapter document. This, it seems to me, is your task – as present and future leaders. In reading the brochure about your course I noticed the various aspects of collaborative leadership that were treated:  vision, creativity, flexibility, mutual trust, good communication, listening, conflict resolution,.. I was struck especially by the inclusion of Ubuntu – the African philosophy which, it seems to me, encapsulates what collaborative living and collaborative leadership are all about: “I am, because you are”, we share a common humanity and we flourish as human beings when we are in right relationship with one another and with all creation.

Today is a day for gratitude – and maybe there is also some sadness as you come to the end of this enriching time together. You’ve been gifted and blessed during these 12 weeks. I pray that you will carry forward the fire that has been ignited in your hearts, the convictions and insights that you’ve gained and the skills that you’ve acquired –  so that you may put into practice the way of leadership that God is calling us to in our time, a way that is collaborative and transformative for yourselves and contributes to the transformation of the society in which you live

Like Pope Francis, who never gives up on his dream of a better world, I pray that you too, our leaders of today and tomorrow, will not give up on your dreams but work towards realising them, making our world today a place where all may have life, life in its fullness. where ‘all have a place in our common home’ (G.Ch.Doc. p.3).

Portugal, 07.07.2021