Formation of Vincentian laity

by | Jan 8, 2014 | Daughters of Charity, Spirituality and Spiritual Practice

SisGenevieve320x-150x150Fr. Joseph McCann, CM reflects on leadership lessons  in ‘Sister Gen’: A Case Study of Vincentian Leadership. He raises the important question of how Vincentian Formation for Leadership can take place outside traditional structures.

“Our case study suggests certain themes: opposition, contradiction, determination, community,spirituality, personal suffering and failure. Rather than settle for a view of Vincentian leadership that is an amalgam of management techniques and social awareness, this has been an attempt to tease out the Christian features of a very personal struggle for meaning.

Leadership is concerned with innovation. The leader is the one who strikes out in a new direction. Leadership relates to fresh missions, creative enterprises, novel approaches. At times of particular difficulty, we need a leader to chart a new course and to keep a steady hand on the tiller. It is important in crisis to retain the confidence of followers, and so leadership relates also to motivation.

Motivation has two aspects: the reason why people do things, and the intensity with which they do them. ‘Why?’ complements ‘How much?’ A leader has to persuade followers why a course of action is being decided, how important an outcome may be, and what is its significance in the great scheme of things. The leader needs to know how much people are prepared to pay, which sacrifice can be demanded, what suffering can be borne. This calls on a leader’s grasp of ultimate meaning, force of communication, and credibility. Leaders who can successfully deploy these powerful elements are happy indeed. Such leaders might even convince themselves. Sister Genevieve obviously did.”

He concludes….

“A Vincentian leader is not just any leader with a social conscience. There is motivation to serve the poor, indeed, but there is also a more personal, spiritual, and interior (one hesitates to say ‘religious’) quality to following Christ in the manner of Vincent and Louise. Perhaps it can be seen in the encounter with suffering. Vincent’s spirituality is Christocentric, discerning the face of Christ in the suffering poor, and aligning one’s own suffering, puny though it be, with Christ on the cross. Dennis Mussig speaks of ‘capacity to face and use suffering’ as a quality of Spiritual Intelligence, and Christian understanding can be nothing less than a powerful aid to do just that. Sister Genevieve remarked that she could not have survived the pressures of her leadership position without her daily prayerMass, and the support of her local community of Daughters of Charity. Richard Ackerman, for one, will agree with her.

The lesson for developing Vincentian leadership is less easy to articulate. For three hundred years, Vincentian leaders were formed in permanent communities that could call on the total life commitment of members. Sister Genevieve, and her sisters in the Daughters of Charity, were deployed in obedience to their superiors, with little consultation, or allowance for personal preferences. This was not unusual; it was true for all religious orders up to the Second Vatican Council. It made, in many cases, for pain and frustration, waste of talent, inefficiency in using resources and ineffectiveness in mission. But it provided also an invaluable ascetical training in single-minded and deep commitment.

When lay people become the carriers of Vincentian ideals, and Vincentian leadership passes from religious to lay people, it is difficult to see how the same formation can be employed without a permanent community and a life commitment. Certain elements, including a sense of the will of God, an attention to personal spiritual growth, prayer life, community support, a mentoring role, and an appreciation of failure, suffering and sin in Christian life, must somehow be factored into the formation process. The way of achieving this is not easy to see, but radical service of the poor, serious immersion in poverty and substantial time-commitment should supply some structure for lay Vincentian formation.”

The article in outline…

The reflection is available in the series of Biographies of Daughters of Charity appearing on the the website Somos. It originally appeared in Colloque, Journal of the Irish Province of the Congregation of the Mission..