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In Lumen Gentium, a document of the Second Vatican Council, we read, among other things, that the Holy Spirit “not only sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, ‘allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills’ (1 Cor 12:11), He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: ‘The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit.’(1 Cor 12:7) These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church.”

Father General Sosa with CJI staff during his 2018 visit in Canada

Thus Vatican II, which closed in 1965, affirmed that the laity are as much a part of the Church as the clergy and that they have a role to play within that Church. More than fifty years later, this active participation of the laity, this awakening to their gifts and vocations, is still in process, although much progress has already been made. Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has often expressed his desire to have a Church in which the laity have greater responsibility. He has written that the specific vocation of laypeople “must be recognized at all levels, avoiding by all means the clericalization of the laity,” and that this recognition must happen through promoting synodality.

Father General Arturo Sosa stressed that the Society needs to deepen the collaboration between Jesuits and companions in the mission. He noted that the “mission of the Lord” requires the pooling of everyone’s strengths and that it is only together, in a spirit of partnership, that it will be possible to build up the Reign of God. Speaking about the place of the laity in the Society of Jesus today, he recalled, for example, that Ignatius of Loyola wrote the Spiritual Exercises when he was a layperson, that the experience of the Exercises is lay, and that today many laypeople are real experts in the Exercises and in their ability to accompany others.

How do these words translate for the laypeople who work with Jesuits in the province of Canada? Has this synodality been realized? Several colleagues have agreed to share how they envision and live their collaboration with the Jesuits of Canada: Barry Leidl (director of the Development Office), Hugo Ducharme (office coordinator for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Canada), Maria Kelsey (pastoral assistant at Saint Pius X Parish), Frédéric Barriault (head of research and communications assistant at the Centre justice et foi), Catherine M. Kelly (director of retreats, CLC, and spiritual formation at Saint Mark’s Parish), and Patricia O’Reilly (director of the Ignatian Education Project).

Laypeople and Jesuits in Canada: Collaborating Together

During his 2018 visit to Canada, Father Sosa presented a new vision of “collaboration” within the Society of Jesus: laypeople in the Society are not just “helpers” to set up and clean up after the work of the Jesuits, as may have been the case in the past, but full partners in collaboration and decision-making. The apostolic body thus includes lay companions (men and women) in the mission and functions well only in collaboration with people inside and outside the Church. For laypeople working with Jesuits, these words from the pope and Father General are wonderful to hear, according to Patricia O’Reilly.

The laity are thus valuable companions in the mission and see themselves as such. The work of Catherine Kelly illustrates this.

I am a professional lay minister with a Master of Divinity degree. I have studied with Jesuit scholastics, women religious, and other lay students. With regard to those of us who have chosen to co-minister with Jesuits, I view all of us—Jesuits, religious, and laity—as members of one large Ignatian family, drawing our spiritual heritage and our way of proceeding from Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

At Saint Mark’s Parish-UBC in Vancouver, I am the director of spiritual formation, retreats, and the Christian Life Community, a lay Ignatian spirituality apostolate whose three pillars are spirituality, community, and mission. I also serve as a spiritual director for the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Our staff operates as a team, offering our gifts and talents in the shared ministry of the parish.

The role of the laity is very important because it complements that of the Jesuits, as Maria Kelsey explains:

I find, for example, that parishioners say things to me as a layperson that they wouldn’t say to the priest, and some of these things are very important. If they have a problem, a suggestion, a complaint, or whatever, they come to me rather than to the priest, so I’m a bit like a mediator. Also, as a layperson, I can say things to Jesuits in authority that other Jesuits would not. I can see things from a different perspective.

Working with the Jesuits, a source of consolation

In their work with Jesuits, lay colleagues find many sources of consolation, especially in their relationships with both Jesuit and lay colleagues. Frédéric Barriault notes, for example, that when he arrived at Bellarmine House, he discovered that Jesuits are affable, humble, welcoming people.

And they are also men for others, most of whom come from the Pedro Arrupe “generation”; religious who are attuned to the ecclesiology of Vatican II and who work in the spirit of Decree 4 of the 32nd General Congregation. I was immediately surprised and impressed by the great freedom and trust that was given to me in order to carry out my mandates. And by the horizontal nature of the relationships between Jesuits and non-Jesuits, both in the Centre justice et foi and in Bellarmine House.

Hugo Ducharme notes that at JRS-Canada, there is “a very clear sense of appreciation for the work of others.” With regard to Father Provincial, he adds, “we feel that he is interested in the employees. This attitude of openness is important and valuable.” Ms. O’Reilly explains that she continues to work with the Society of Jesus because her colleagues are “committed people from whom and with whom I learn and who encourage me to grow in faith.”

Jesuits, lay colleagues and participants during an activity organised by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Another essential aspect for the lay colleagues of the Jesuit Province of Canada concerns the values of the Society of Jesus, which are embodied in the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs). Mr. Ducharme appreciated the fact that the laity were involved in the discernment that led to the UAPs. “From the start, they asked the people involved in each apostolate to engage in a process of reflection. ”

These values are also part of a broader worldview shared by lay colleagues. Frédéric Barriault is filled with gratitude for the moment he arrived at Bellarmine, which was an unusual moment.

The election of a Jesuit pope, his prophetic appeals to the Church and the world, his fidelity to the ideals of Vatican II, his blunt criticism of clericalism, and his efforts to give priority to the place of women, laypeople, and indigenous people are all signs that have consoled and strengthened me; that have made me feel not only that I have found my place but that I’m in the right place. Being a collaborator of the Jesuits fills me with a sense of pride and allows me to experience a certain coherence with the ideals that motivate me.

Barry Leidl adds:

I think many of us probably know that working in the private sector would perhaps be a little more lucrative. But we would miss the feeling of being part of something more important than just profit. When we talk to benefactors, donors, and friends, we feel as though we’re not just talking about money, we’re developing a deeper relationship with people.

The impact of these values on the work and the fruits of that work are also important to colleagues. Ms. Kelly offers her perspective.

We share a common worldview, starting from a position of gratitude, oriented toward grace as we find God in all things through the daily Examen and discernment. We help people identify where they are most alive and help them to energize that part of themselves so that together we can become men and women for others, setting the world on fire with God’s love. At the heart of every decision is discernment, a careful listening to the Spirit who guides us to love, serve, and praise God in all that we do.

Mr. Ducharme feels that his work at JRS-Canada has a tangible impact on people’s lives and “unlike a community organization where I could have the same impact, the Society of Jesus is an organization where my faith is not a stumbling block but rather something positive.”

Overcoming challenges

Barry J. Leidl, Director of Advancement

In the Canadian province, lay men and women have been providing leadership in key areas for many years, in some cases for decades. In education, for example, not only are the high schools and the two Nativity Schools led by lay presidents with a staff of mostly lay teachers, but all boards of directors are led by lay people. The Martyrs’ Shrine, although it has a Jesuit director, is overseen by a lay board, as is the Centre justice et foi. These are just a few examples of the reality of many other Jesuit works.

This trend toward real collaboration with the laity has deep roots. In English Canada and French Canada, since at least the 1980s, and often before that, young Jesuits in formation have studied alongside their lay peers and have been supervised by lay teachers and mentors.

At the level of province governance, many lay colleagues have served as assistants to the provincial over the past decade, and four of the nine current assistants are not Jesuits. Apostolic commissions, the expanded consult, and annual meetings of the directors of works are all ways to ensure direct lay participation in the province’s communal apostolic discernment. Finally, key positions in the provincial administration are filled by lay professionals.

Mr. Leidl, who has worked with the Jesuits for thirty-one years, has seen their relationship with the laity change for the better.

I started working with the Jesuits because they needed an accountant temporarily and I had experience. So I went to an interview, and the director said, “We’d love to hire you, that would be great. But when we find a Jesuit who can do the job, you’ll have to leave.” So there has been a big change since then. The Jesuits have realized that they need laypeople. Now I view the Jesuits as colleagues, and I don’t really notice who is a layperson or who is a Jesuit, except maybe when it matters, like when a priest presides at Mass. I think we’re in a good place right now. There is generally good dialogue and a spirit of openness, and it is important that people take ownership of the responsibilities that they have been given.

While lay people working with the Society of Jesus in Canada generally value their relationship with the Jesuits, and the Jesuits are making efforts to shift out of a clerical mentality, some colleagues have suggestions for going further. Ms. O’Reilly notes, for example:

To say that something is so and to actually see it lived out in practice are two different things. It is challenging to change practice and even harder to change hearts. My work with the Society is energizing and fulfilling, but there have been times when I have been excluded. Pope Francis refers to this as “the sin of clericalism.”

Patricia O’Reilly with Father General Sosa

She goes on to explain that sometimes she has the impression that some ordained men feel superior to the laity and that laypeople have to walk on eggshells when they suggest changes. Referring to the responsibility of clergy to recognize their position of power in Church structures, Ms. Kelsey acknowledges, “It’s a difficult thing to do.” Options for enabling lay colleagues to participate fully in the mission can often be simple, such as scheduling meeting times that take into account family schedules, making sure to recognize their work, or finding a way for lay ministers to have the funding they need for their ministry.

It is also important to name, as Ms. Kelly did, that challenges can also come from the secular world: “One of the biggest challenges that I face in my work is not being recognized by other laypeople as having the same professional ministerial training, education, and experience as my Jesuit peers.”

Being a lay person in a religious institution in a secular society 

And how do colleagues experience the tension between their life in a secular society and their work in a religious organization? According to them, the Jesuits’ openness to the world helps bridge the gap between the society and the religious institution. This is also true at the individual level: “I have found it very helpful to be authentic in my interactions with others, to look for the best in others, and to use the tools of dialogue to find common ground and build relationships based on our shared values,” explains Ms. Kelly.

Mr. Barriault, who works in the Quebec context, shares his perspective.

Frédéric Barriault
Frédéric Barriault

In a secularized society like ours, with a wounded past and a conflictual relationship with religions in general and with the Catholic Church in particular, it is not always easy to assume one’s identity as a believer and as a Christian. But being a collaborator of the Jesuits and being shaped by Ignatian spirituality greatly facilitates this situation. Even more so in view of the seriousness and depth with which the Society of Jesus and its various works respond to the cries of our world and of our brothers and sisters in humanity—the UAPs reflect this.

Another possible impediment to working in a religious organization is the fact that the Church is being criticized by many people, in particular for its role in residential schools in Canada and in cases of sexual abuse. Ms. Kelsey does not hide her discomfort when working with people in her parish.

If I tell them simply that it’s hard to be a Catholic today and then mention a specific incident, there’s a huge sigh of relief because they feel the same way. And I say it out loud for them. So they know that there’s nothing wrong with how they feel.

Again, the faith and vision of Jesuit works help to build bridges. Mr. Barriault shares about when he began to work with the Jesuits.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had just submitted its final report. The hull and paddles of the Canadian canoe pilgrimage were not yet dry. The migrant crisis was still in full swing in the Middle East, on the shores of the Mediterranean, and on the roads and deserts of Central America and Mexico. All over the West, the populist, xenophobic, and islamophobic right was spreading its hatred of migrants in general and of Muslims in particular. While Pope Francis denounced the globalization of indifference, the Jesuits and their collaborators were trying to bring about a world of justice, fraternity, and social friendship. Filled with consolation, confident in my new role, I found in this spiritual and religious family a spirit of collaboration and a commitment to the mission so strong and clear that my doubts melted like snow in the sun.

Mr. Ducharme adds that while there are challenges, “the humanitarian nature of my work and the apostolate I’m involved in help to mitigate these problems because people are not focused on the Jesuits but on the refugees. Also, the Jesuits have long been a reference in the area of sponsorship in Quebec and in Canada. Most of the organizations in the sponsorship community have ties to religious communities.”


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