Br. Robert Schieler, Superior General: Opening address at the Lasallian Global Women's Symposium, New Zealand 16-19 July.
Thank you for inviting me to share a brief reflection with you at the beginning of this Lasallian Women's Symposium.
This is a symposium by, for and with women who are fully involved in the Lasallian ministry of human and Christian education. Gathered in solidarity with one another, you have identified five aims for the symposium. It is, therefore, your challenge and responsibility to describe the specific contribution of women to our common mission and to envision new and invigorating modes of participation. Your task is to help me and the rest of the Lasallian Family appreciate the "women's perspective" and the particular experienced-based "women's impact" that you contribute to Lasallian educational communities.
As the Brother Superior, I have come primarily to attentively listen to your shared wisdom and experience. My desire during these days with you is to listen, reflect and learn. I hope to leave this symposium inspired, motivated and challenged by your questions and insights.
The Symposium belongs to you. My reflection will, therefore, be brief and I hope it will serve you as an invitation to prayer, conversation and action that benefit a spirit of Lasallian sisterhood that joyfully and effectively witnesses to the Reign of God and the liberation of the poor. Like Mary of Magdala, the preeminent witness to the resurrection, you are called to tell your students, colleagues, families and friends: "I have seen the Lord!" 1
Through a careful reading of the Gospel, we see that "Jesus takes advantage of every opportunity to present women as models of faith, generosity and selfless commitment". 2 These are the kind of people we need to be involved at different levels of decision making. In contemporary studies of leadership, we read that "women manifested a somewhat more democratic (or participative) style and a less autocratic (or directive) style than men did".3 Can you suggest areas of mission-governance that would benefit from the "women's perspective"; from a more "participative" style?
Globally, the majority of Lasallian Partners are women.4 In PARC, RELAL and RELEM women are the majority of partners and RELAN is not far behind. In RELAF female partners make up about a third of the Lasallian workforce. In some of our educational communities the majority of students are women. It is with this in mind that one of the results of a symposium by and for women is to provide you with a unique opportunity for networking and sharing so that your voice may be heard and you can enrich the entire Lasallian Family.
Just think of the potential for impact that Lasallian women have. Inspired by the ideas of author Thomas Friedman, I believe that assisted by social media and the hard- to- believe power of the cloud, all of you working together "now have the power to do good at a speed and scope we've never seen before: to reverse environmental degradation or to feed, house, and clothe every person on the planet", 5 to wipe out illiteracy and give hope to children everywhere, if we ever pooled our collective wisdom and decided to do it.
All Lasallians Brothers and Partners are united in our response to God's one call that we announce the Good News to the poor. We are all motivated by the one spirit of faith and zeal that impels us to go beyond borders to provide poor children and young people with a life- giving and liberating education.
We know, however, that "[T]here are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit. There are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord". 6
What are the many gifts that women bring to our shared ministry? What are the different ways of serving through which women provide poor children and young people with a holistic human and Christian education? Do women have a distinct way of interacting with the poor, marginalized and vulnerable? How do we create structures and opportunities that will affirm the role of young and gifted professional women and encourage them to make a long term commitment to our mission?
Enriched with insights from Leonard Doohan, a noted professor of leadership studies, and the contemporary theologian José Pagola, I share with you my conviction that the Lasallian mission needs leaders with human integrity, spirit, heart leaders of hope who bring their hope to the mission and find and fulfill their students' search for hope.7 We need Lasallian educators who wake up their colleagues and students to the already-present Reign of God. We need educators who introduce compassion into all human life, a compassion like God's. 8
Do women single, married, mothers, religious sisters -, because of their lived experiences, witness to hope and behave compassionately in a different way; a way that makes a significant difference in their human relationships?
Contemporary leadership studies tell us that inspired leaders, and I quote,"transform organizations, leaders transform people one at a time, and impact society as a whole, leading it to a vision of promise, and they do this within the context of organizational success and development".9 How do you envision women as transformational Lasallian leaders? Can you suggest concrete ways to incorporate more women into mission-related governmental structures at the local, District and Institute levels of transformational leadership?
Pope Francis often reminds us of the important role women especially grandmothers and mothers play in transmitting their faith traditions. Following Francis' line of thought, I wonder if women should be more proactive in promoting all Lasallian vocations. Can women be more direct in inviting their colleagues to consider their educational service as a vocational response to God's desire that all persons live life to the fullest? Can women's intuition be a guide to inviting young men to consider the life of the Brothers of the Christian Schools?
You Lasallian women, with your diverse experiences, gifts, perspectives, tenderness and empathy are helping all of us to covert and believe in the Gospel. Echoing Mary of Magdala you announce to us "He is risen!". You are assisting the Holy Spirit in the transformation of the Lasallian mission as it strives to be a beacon of hope and a witness to the Reign of God, especially to our students who are blocked from living life to the fullest.
Thank you for the gift you are to the Lasallian Family! You indeed bring wisdom, joy and creativity to the Lasallian mission. You are building on the legacy of the women who inspired and supported John Baptist de La Salle during the founding of the Institute Perrette Lespagnol, Madame Maillefer, Sister Francoise Duval, Madame des Croyères, and Sister Louise.
Gathered in the presence of God, I ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your prayer, guide your conversations and impel you to dream of new strategies designed to increase your impact on our ministry of human and Christian education.
This symposium is yours. I am here to listen and learn.
1. Gospel of John 20:18
2. Pagola, José A. Jesus: An Historical Approximation, p. 217. Convivium, 2015.
3. Eagly, A.H. and Carli, LL. From Research Gate, The Female Leadership Advantage: An Evaluation of the Evidence (article in The Leadership Quarterly, p. 814, December, 2013).
4. General Council. Circular 461, Associated for the Lasallian Missionan Act of Hope,cf. 1.14. Brothers of the Christian Schools, September, 2010.
5. Friedman, Thomas L. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, p. 89. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.
6. First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 12:4-5.
7. Doohan, Leonard. Spiritual Leadership: The Quest for Integrity, cf. p. 3. Paulist Press, 2007.
8. Pagola, cf. P. 147.
9. Doohan, p. 5.
I am grateful to the following Lasallian Partners who graciously shared with me their insights regarding the perspective and impact of women in our ministry of human and Christian education: Cheri Broadhead, Jolleen Wagner, Maryann Donohue Lynch, Roxanne Eubank, Ophelia Fugoso, Heather Ruple Gilson.