Hugh O’Donnell, C.M. describes the Chinese Leadership Initiative that DePaul University has hosted for three years.
(DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider, CM, receiving gifts from the sisters at a President’s Dinner on campus.)
During the past three years, De Paul University has welcomed thirty priests and twenty-five sisters from China to a month-long workshop on leadership. It is called The Chinese Leadership Initiative and aims at compassionate and collaborative ecclesial leadership. It takes the form of cultural exchange.
‘Would one of the Vincentian universities in the States host priests and sisters from China for summer sessions?’ This was the question posed by Father J. B. Zhang, the founder of Faith Press and the first Catholic NGO in China called Jinde Charities. Father Dennis Holtschneider, C. M. responded that De Paul University would be happy to welcome them. So, a partnership was formed with De Paul and Father Zhang’s organization and the Vincentian Chinese province.
The program in 2012 was a three-week pilot program with twelve priests. The program now covers five weeks. The four weeks at De Paul in Chicago are preceded by a week of visiting and touring in New York and Washington, DC. getting in touch with American life, culture and food. Eighteen priests participated in 2013 and twenty-five religious sisters in 2014. In New York the confreres at St. John’s University have been very gracious in welcoming the priests and sisters. This past summer, St. John’s University hosted the sisters on campus in the town houses and a special dining room during their visit to the Big Apple. From Washington, thanks to the Daughters of Charity, the sisters visited Emmitsburg and got in touch with the history and heritage of Elizabeth Ann Seton and her remarkable initiatives.
Click to enlarge the group photo in front of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.
Each week in the program has a different theme. The first week focuses on vocation. For the priests, the theme is priesthood and the life and ministry of Vincent de Paul. For the sisters, it is religious life, which aimed at strengthening their identity and mission in the light of their diverse charisms. The second week focuses on spiritual leadership – leadership from within, leadership through values, and specifically through Gospel values. The third week focuses on relational leadership. It offers a vision of authoritative leadership based on listening, empathy, compassion, collaboration and community building, rather than on power. The final week focuses on pastoral and community leadership.
During the four weeks, mornings are in the classroom as just described. The afternoons are spent visiting the city, parishes, families, and the works of communities. A Columban priest familiar with the face of poverty in Chicago arranges visits to sites where religious and lay people reach out to people living in poverty or on the streets. At one site, for example, they arrive very early by public transportation, prepare breakfast and serve it to the people who come. Both priests and sisters have been very touched by these contacts with the people on the margins and both have asked for more opportunities like these.
The Vincentian community at De Paul each Monday evening invites four to six priests or sisters (depending on the size of the group) to dinner with the community. After dinner, everyone goes up to the community room for coffee and dessert, where the visitors have an opportunity to share their stories and listen to those of the confreres. It probably is the first time they have had a chance to share their story outside China. The translation is done by one of the two Chinese confreres, Fathers Lin and Gao.
In the final days of the program each year, the priests and sisters are invited to respond to two questions in the presence of the whole group: 1) what has the program meant to me, and 2) how do I anticipate using this experience and learning back home. This has been for both the priests and sisters a profound and touching moment of synthesis, testimony, personal ownership, and hope.
One of the more remarkable aspects of this year’s program was the interaction of the Chinese sisters with groups and communities of American sisters from perhaps a dozen different communities. They were mutually impressed, touched and edified by one another. The age difference turned out to be a great plus. The Chinese, who were mostly in their forties, appreciated the wisdom and vitality of the American sisters, and the American sisters were glad to be in touch with the youth, vitality and joy of the Chinese sisters. It was cultural exchange at its best. This was particularly true of the Fourth of July weekend hosted by the Dominican Sisters in Springfield, Illinois.
The Daughters of Charity (East and West) warmly supported the program through funding and hospitality in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, the provincial residence in Saint Louis and Emmitsburg.
The Chinese sisters in the end encouraged us to spread the charism of Vincent and Louise more widely in China, because they feel Vincent and Louise speak to their reality today.