Ignatian Governance:  Discernment, Collaboration and Networking

                                                                                                                    by Dr. Debra Mooney, Ph.D

When Fr. Arturo Sosa SJ was elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the 36th General Congregation in October 2016, he immediately pointed to two significant issues that would garner his attention: Reconciliation and Justice, and Governance.  Let’s explore his call for Renewed Governance.

Fr Sosa believes that governance is personal, spiritual and a mission endeavor.   Discernment, Collaboration, and Networking are 3 elements he considers helpful “to streamline [contemporary] governance and make it more flexible and effective.”   Certainly, Fr Sosa’s emphasis on effective governance at the Congregation gathering focused on the functioning of the Society of Jesus and its ‘way of proceeding’.  Since then, however, he has extended the invitation for “all works of the Society” to examine their own way of proceeding.   Undoubtedly, the three elements are useful for all governing bodies.  Let’s consider each of them:

The first is Discernment

Discernment is a process dating back to the days of Ignatius Loyola.  Since its founding, discernment has guided the development of governance to better serve and support the Society of Jesus’ mission.  For any organization, it is a way to understand and assess the challenges and opportunities that are being faced.   The process of discernment relies on a culture of continuous improvement to best identify and respond to challenges.

In practice, it begins in contemplation -- recognizing what is really happening in our situation, in our reality.  We are called to identify what is worthy of our attention and notice “God at work” in our reality.  “Consistent and participative discernment’ ensures that ongoing ‘planning - including implementation, monitoring, and evaluation - is an integral element” in communal functioning.    

Communal planning and discernment means to hear together the Holy Spirit and to make decisions according to the inspiration we feel together.  It is possible only if we have interior freedom (or openness) as individuals and as a group. In addition to Freedom and trust, Fr. Sosa’s predecessor, Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ, suggests that we can “only make good decisions for our universities when 3 other prerequisites are present.” 

They are: 
- shared values affirming the University’s mission, vision and values.

- generosity
- selflessness for the greater good.                          

It is noteworthy that Pope Francis has been studying the Jesuits use of discernment at critical moments in their history.  Emerging from his scholarship, he offers guidance about discerning during times of crisis.   Foremost, he cautions discerners to be aware of the “temptation of defensive introspection.” He emphasizes that discernment is an action. It is a response that is neither defensive nor passive; it is active, but in an appropriate way – a spiritual way-- and, thus, is transformative. Simply stated:  good decisions come from openness and discernment.

The second characteristic important to effective governance is Collaboration.  Partnering with those that share in the purpose and mission results in deeper and expanded impact.  Moreover,  collaboration strengthens organizational identity.  

But Fr Sosa notes challenges and obstacles to genuine and effective collaboration. “[T]he challenges, he states, may be found in the lack of imagination and courage, or they may come from inhibitions arising from ..social contexts or even from local …practices.”    Inclusive discernment, and ongoing planning and evaluation of strategies to overcome the obstacles, are important so that participation by all collaborators – all partners- in activities and governance continues.Conversely, collaboration also involves discerning “which projects, initiatives or activities carried out by others, we could offer our support, whether human, technical, intellectual or financial.”

Collaboration naturally leads to cooperation through networks. Networking, the third characteristic of successful governance, builds on a shared vision and requires a culture of generosity, openness to work with others, and a desire to celebrate successes.  Networking promotes collaborations both inside and outside the organization.  It engages the ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ dimensions of governance.  Networks also depend on a person’s ability to provide vision and leadership for collaboration.

In summary, Fr Sosa stated, in his wide-spread call for effective governance: “Discernment, collaboration and networking are three characteristics of the Society’s manner of proceeding, highlighted by the 36th General Congregation. From these three elements, [the] University - and all the apostolic works of the Society - are invited to examine their own manner of proceeding. I therefore invite the University to discern its intellectual apostolate, its themes and its way of carrying it out." Therefore, let us consider how we – as trustees and apostolic leaders - discern, collaborate and network in our governing, in our ‘way of proceeding’.

~~

Resources
GC 36, Decree 2: Renew Governance for a Renewed Mission,  10/16

Speech at Univ of Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, Fr General Arturo Sosa,  3/23/17

Discernment in a time of tribulation: Pope Francis and the Church in Chile  Austen Ivereigh  5/8/18