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Last December, Kevin Kelly, SJ, and Gilles Mongeau, SJ, participated as representatives from the Canadian Province in the Apostolic Planning for Renewal and Transformation 2023 in Rome, led by Father John Dardis, SJ, General Counselor for Discernment and Apostolic Planning. Jesuits and lay partners in mission from all Conferences and Provinces gathered for this event, a key part of the whole project of renewal within the Society, to gain insight and practical know-how on topics related to apostolic planning.

In our Province, the document for apostolic planning, based on the UAPs, is Pilgrims Together, “a resource to help us discern which attitudes and paths to conversion will enable us to better participate in Christ’s mission in Canada, wherever we are, whatever our institution, whatever our individual reality,” explained Fr. Mongeau. Each year, the Provincial also “offers the province a reflection of what he has heard, of what those involved in the works at the grassroots level have said, which is shared by the superiors and directors of the works in the autumn and by the expanded consultation in January. All this is brought together in order for us to make an Ignatian examen, to see where we are on the path to conversion.”

We are already on the path of apostolic planning, but we need to go further. In this article, Fr. Kelly explains why the event in Rome was and is important for the Province of Canada and Haiti. In short, explains Kelly, “this style of planning is much more about seeing how discernment changes as more data becomes available and as decisions are made”: it is always evolving.

Concerning apostolic planning, how are we doing in Canada and Haiti?

This conference would have been helpful for us in Canada two years ago when we were working on our apostolic plan, Pilgrims Together, but it was still extremely helpful even at this point in our planning. We are probably more on the advanced end of the spectrum: many of the countries are where we are, some are slightly more advanced than us, others are just finishing their plans and then some are really just in the planning phase. There was a diversity of situations represented at the event: those implementing their plan; those finalizing and implementing the plan; and those who were still building their plan.

What were the most important elements that you learned?

Coming from a business background, strategic planning processes are very common. But even in the business world, we are evolving because the speed of change means that people are not building 5-year and 10-year strategic plans anymore. The world is moving too fast, and those kinds of plans are becoming obsolete.

A big fear among some Jesuits at the conference was that, like in the past, these apostolic plans would be built only to end up on a shelf and never be used again. A big part of this conference was helping us all realize that these plans are dynamic. They are not something that is finalized and then implemented as is, but rather are part of a process where discernment is always evolving the plan while we have direction, while there is a vision, while decisions are made. We need to revisit and then reassess and maybe change the plan and move forward again. There is always an image of the longer future, but how we get there is always evolving.

A big part of this conference was helping us all realize that these plans are dynamic. They are not something that is finalized and then implemented as is, but rather are part of a process where discernment is always evolving the plan while we have direction, while there is a vision, while decisions are made.

I find this very consoling. While apostolic planning may be novel in some of our works, the building blocks of discernment, reevaluation, and new decisions being made are not novel. That is just good discernment!

As you said, you worked in business. What is the difference between strategic planning and apostolic planning?

Apostolic planning incorporates many of the principles of strategic planning. However, it also anchors spiritually, as we discern and make decisions. The process doesn’t end: decisions taken bring new data for new and future discernment within our planning. It is very integrated. The challenge is always keeping things concrete, empowering apostolates and regions, to make decisions, to get them approved and endorsed by the Provincial, then to execute them and learn from them.

In light of this conference, what do you think of Pilgrims Together?

We have a very good plan. Pilgrims Together is really clear in its vision, how we want to work as collaborators in this mission, where our priorities are coming out of the Universal Apostolic Preferences, and how we are incorporating those into the Province of Canada and Haiti. The meeting was incredibly affirming of the steps already taken.

I think we have seen Pilgrims Together evolve. And now this is the next stage, but it is not something new, it is coming out of what is already existing. It requires more strategic decisions, very specifically at the level of our commissions like the Spirituality Commission, the Higher Education Commission, the Pastoral Commission. We need to be working, using these principles, and planning and making recommendations out of our experiences and our common vision to the Provincial to make choices. But this is not something that sits outside of the work we do: it is completely integrated into the process.

The purpose of this conference in many ways was to show that apostolic planning, and the actual choices and activities we do, are the same. How are they feeding each other? It is a back-and-forth process of planning and discerning. And when a decision is made, we implement it, and as we implement, we learn more, which means we may change our plans or vision. We are always learning from what we have done, which modifies how we move forward. The vision , that Pilgrims Together offers, is a long-term one.

I think we have seen Pilgrims Together evolve. And now this is the next stage, but it is not something new, it is coming out of what is already existing. It requires more strategic decisions.

What are the next steps and priorities?

So, first, Jesuit communities. We need to look at how Jesuits live together, work together across the province. This may mean a reduction in the number of communities, for example. We need more prayer and discernment around community structures.

Second, evaluation metrics: how are we going to assess the changes and steps we make? How are we evaluating those? And then how are we revisiting and modifying as we learn from our evaluations? Answers to these questions need deepening.

Third would be the regional work. Erik Oland and Gilles Mongeau have been talking about how we can see more collaboration within the region, for example in the Francophone region with Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City. How are we working, not just within the spirituality apostolate, and the educational apostolate, and the social justice apostolate, but how are we working together to meet the needs of all of those we serve? Thus, we need more work on the regional appropriation, different in each region, of Pilgrims Together. That needs more discernment and experience, but again, is moving in the right direction.

And then the fourth would be vocation planning. While there are again many good things happening, we must work to integrate vocation planning more deeply. What are the concrete steps in the plan around vocation planning?

The idea of conference-level connections is really important, in addition to Jesuit community life, the regional realities, the metrics for evaluation of the vocation tools. What can we learn from other provinces in the conference, and how can we contribute from our experience? How are we communicating around apostolic planning within the conference? Those were the key questions.

The meeting in Rome was the first one in the Society of Jesus focused on apostolic planning. I hope to see these gatherings done more routinely, maybe every 2 or 3 years. I also hope that this level of planning concretely at the conference level.

Indeed, we need collaboration. It was so helpful to have other religious and lay people representing various provinces. The spirit around collaboration was great. In the provinces, we need to be working more closely together.

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