Intercultural leadership naturally fits with religious congregation


By Theresa Carson

Leadership, it’s a hot topic these days. Catholic Theological Union Professor Emeritus Stephen Bevans SVD recently addressed the topic and put a new twist on it by emphasizing intercultural leadership at a gathering of Divine Word local superiors.

Earlier in the summer, he spoke with provincials and coordinators from North and South America gathered as they discussed challenges, joys and best practices. Father Bevans, the Louis J. Luzbetak SVD Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture, met with the group to reflect upon the theology of leadership and what it means in our intercultural world.

“Our mission is guided and shaped by the practice of interculturality,” said Father Bevans as he marveled at the Society of the Divine Word’s 142-year tradition of interculturality. “We need leaders to be intercultural.”

Father Bevans used the birth of the Society of the Divine Word as an example. The missionary congregation was founded by St. Arnold Janssen, a German priest who built the order’s first mission house in the Netherlands and whose first member was Austrian.

During the presentation, Father Bevans outlined themes of past General Chapters, worldwide meetings of elected Divine Word delegates that occur once every six years and establish the direction of the religious congregation. The themes reaffirm the congregation’s commitment to the world’s poor and marginalized while fostering interculturality inside the organization and in the world at large.

“This love of Christ…impels us to be committed to his mission,” Father Bevans said. “It’s important, however, to understand the meaning of that word ‘impel.’ Because it is love that impels us, it can never mean that we are forced or that our commitment is somehow against our will—just the opposite.”

Touching upon a shift in conventional business approaches, Father Bevans discussed the difference between what theologian Leonard Doohan calls “transactional leadership” and “transformational leadership.”

“Leaders animate, persuade by their own example, and are committed to dialogue. They get people swept up by the task at hand,” Father Bevans said. “For a creative, transformational, spiritual leader, power is not a ‘zero sum’ concept, to be held onto or dealt out carefully with the conviction that whatever is shared is lost. Rather power is understood as something that grows and expands as it is shared. As theologian Thomas Moore wrote, ‘We keep our power when we protect the power of others.’”

Founded in 1875, the Society of the Divine Word is the largest Catholic congregation of missionaries. The religious order consists of more than 6,000 missionary brothers and priests in more than 70 countries.

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