In January 2022, the members of the provincial’s expanded consult met to discuss and discern the orientations for the Jesuit Province of Canada. Provincial Erik Oland, SJ, and Socius Gilles Mongeau, SJ, share the fruits of that meeting, which serve to confirm us on our journey of Pilgrims Together.
A difficult context: a call to heroism
The decrease in Jesuit human resources is a significant challenge to our mission. In his last letter on the apostolic orientations of the province, the provincial wrote: “The expanded consultation discerned a sentiment of accrued precarity in certain apostolic sectors, a fragility present in people’s reflection. A modification of one person more or less can dramatically change the situation of some apostolates. This pushes us towards adaptation, but how to do this well?”
The importance of formation for Jesuit and non-Jesuit leaders was brought up during the expanded consultation. “We have to focus on formation instead of trying to have a Jesuit involved in everything: people want to work with us, but we have to form them (Ignatian spirituality, spiritual conversation, discernment in common, social and cultural analysis),” explained Father Erik, recalling that the apostolate of the Society of Jesus is characterized by spiritual and intellectual depth.
In a similar vein, Father Gilles emphasized the realism of the participants in the expanded consultation: They were not afraid to name the fragility, the effects of COVID, the legacy of abuse in the Church and in the residential schools, and the growing cultural distrust of the institutional Church. He felt that, compared to the last few consultations, there was a greater degree of freedom to confront reality, and a great enthusiasm as well. “Heroism” was a term that came up several times during the consultation, meaning a desire on the part of all participants to give of themselves freely and without limits.
The importance of formation for Jesuit and non-Jesuit leaders was brought up during the expanded consultation. “We need to focus on formation instead of trying to have a Jesuit involved in everything.”
The province works in different sectors, but in order to carry out our mission, we need to know how to incarnate it today. A central point that has emerged in the expanded consultation during the last few years is the importance of being well informed about what is happening on the ground, in the field, by getting to know each other.
Our call: the Spiritual Exercises as a way to be grounded in today’s reality
During the consultation, it was emphasized that the Spiritual Exercises are the foundation of the province’s ongoing journey. Thus, in the midst of the current crisis in the Church, it is important to highlight the grace of the first week. “What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that, although I am a sinner, I am called to be a companion of Jesus” (GC32).” Confused by our sinfulness, explains Father Gilles, we discover that the Lord has continued to give us what we need in order to bear fruit.
“What do we see in terms of the energy, the creativity, the talents of the people who want to work with us?” asked Father Erik. The expanded consultation highlighted the fact that we are still discerning how our province is being guided by the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP) and Pilgrims Together, especially in the context of the past two years of pandemic. The provincial invites us not to look at this pandemic experience in a negative way, but rather to see it as an invitation to welcome the grace of the third week of the Spiritual Exercises, as we accompany Jesus in his Passion, experiencing suffering and fragility.
“This fragility can be a consolation,” explains Father Erik, “because it brings us together.” Moreover, he writes in his letter, “this realization aligns our own discernment with that of the 200 or so leaders of religious life in Canada who affirmed last year that ‘the encounter with Christ in our vulnerability leads us out into witness and relationship’ with others to offer hope, even as we are in touch with pain and suffering.”
Relating to others: being pilgrims together
“We are pilgrims on a journey, and that journey is as important if not more important than the destination,” said Father Erik. “Where are the invitations in Pilgrims Together brought to life in Canada, based on our experiences and the UAPs?” The consultation highlighted that we are beginning to put these documents into practice: for example, we walk with Indigenous peoples, we know that listening is key. We need to be able to listen and walk with before we can share the experience and wisdom of our Ignatian tradition.
“Superiors and directors of works, discerning together, are called to feel truly co-responsible for the mission of the Society in their regions.”
Being pilgrims together is also experienced within the province, and the desire for synodality—especially internally—emerged during the consultation. The latter already brings together not only the provincial and his council, but also the leaders of the sectors, whether they be Jesuits or lay colleagues. “It is a transversal leadership that gradually develops during the pilgrimage,” the provincial notes. “The Society of Jesus is being changed by the fact that collaborators are more and more present in leadership roles. This confirms the decision to ask the regions and sectors to take more responsibility for the Jesuit apostolate.”
Father Gilles adds: “Let us think of the regions: The collaboration that is beginning to take place between the apostolic sectors in a region should be developed in a meaningful way with a shared vision of how to take responsibility for the mission of the Society in that region. Superiors and directors of works, discerning together, are called to feel truly co-responsible for the mission of the Society in their regions.”
In his letter, the provincial also points out that “the growing collaboration, both regionally and among apostolic sectors, is fostering the emergence of a common narrative for the province, while honouring the diversity of cultures, language, history, and so on. We need to continue to encourage conversations among us…”
The commissions are also called to take some responsibility for thinking about their sector in a collective way, across the country. This requires some networking between sectors and within sectors (sharing staff, discernment in common, etc.).
All this is part of a vision based on a transversal model of leadership. “We feel a sense of confirmation that this is the way to go,” concludes the socius. “We are rediscovering in our province a very Ignatian way of being a superior, whose role in the Constitutions is precisely to promote the mission and to foster the union of hearts.
By Fannie Dionne