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We Need Innovators and Disruptors

When I was in downtown Dublin in 2022, the sight of a large ad for Trinity College Dublin wrapped on a public bus took my breath away. The ad read, “We need innovators and disruptors.” I thought immediately – disruption has become such a part of religious life. What, though, if we looked upon the disruptions as gateways to innovation?

In the two years that have passed, I have been watching the religious life “disruptions” of decreasing numbers, frailer members, fewer ministries, and more become gateways for the innovation of collaboration. Our inability as individual religious institutes to be all that we once were and often wish we could still be for the world, is leading us to a whole new set of possibilities as we explore partnering across institute lines and with other organizations.

This shift should not surprise us since it is a movement happening throughout society. Our consciousness as a global community is shifting significantly as we discover how truly interdependent our world is – and how fragile. Only by working together across the boundaries that have historically divided us will the planet even be able to survive. Nowhere is this more evident than in the climate crisis, the pandemics, and the military conflicts occurring across the globe.

A parallel consciousness is arising in religious life as religious congregations are entering into alliances – not only with other religious or other Catholic entities, but with many other movements and organizations that value the common good. Fostering interdependence is becoming an imperative for religious institutes.

A Movement that Comes with Challenges

Most of the women in religious life today lived through years where every religious institute operated quite independently. For the most part, women religious ran their own institutions and ministries and were accustomed to being in charge. This movement towards collaboration, therefore, can come with some challenges. In the past, collaboration often involved bringing other people into our works and, essentially, expecting them to carry on those works as we had.

Today the invitation is to become more horizontal collaborators where we walk side-by-side with others with a common vision – even when others’ ways of operating may be unfamiliar, make us uncomfortable, or require that we relinquish control.

In places where women religious are engaged in this type of collaboration, we hear stories of how sisters are valued for skills that they often took for granted because they were developed via our communal lifestyle. Those skills include experience with teamwork, practice in conflict resolution, and an understanding of life from the perspective of those on the margins. Often sisters are surprised by how appreciated and valued these skills are.

In my work at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, I see that congregations that are deep into the work of making this shift to horizontal collaboration are focusing on the work of transitioning. For example:

  • Many are engaged in proactive planning that looks at transitioning sponsored institutions or congregation ministries to lay leadership.
  • They are making plans to repurpose their properties and buildings to serve wider needs.
  • They are partnering with other entities whose mission is compatible with theirs and they are finding creative ways to contribute to those entities.

2 Comments

  1. I just read the article, “ We need innovators and disruptors” and was saddened that it sounded exactly like an article I would read for work as I work in Organizational Development for government agencies.
    What we need is Jesus Christ – rely on Him to disrupt what needs changing. Please remember your Catholic identity. There was nothing here that spoke of our call to disrupt by following Christ.
    This global agenda approach distances us from the humanity and dignity of each person. I was taught by holy IHM nuns that taught me what it meant to be Christ to the person that God put in your path. Care for the children you teach and teach them to love and serve the Lord. Even in working with other groups, looking at the bigger picture of being innovative- make what was old new again, teaching each that Christ comes first in your lives would help grow the answer to a call of religious vocation. Then you wouldn’t be facing the challenges of how to help your order and institution survive.
    I will pray for order. May you be renewed by the true Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
    God bless and protect the IHM order.

    • Dear Denise,
      Thank you for reading this article and for your thoughtful response. I will share this with our sisters and we will take your strong advice moving forward. God bless you. Good day, Denise. Sister Fran

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