This reflection is reprinted with permission from the editor of The Laurel, a publication of the Sacred Heart Schools.
How appropriate it is that the Jean Frazier Leadership Institute at Sacred Heart Schools on the Ursuline Campus in Louisville will foster future leaders. Leadership is in our genes, so to speak. Our Sacred Heart Schools’ ancestors were leaders. There are the many Ursuline Sisters who founded, formed, led and encouraged education. Imagine the Sisters who carried significant and prominent responsibilities year in and year out. Imagine also the Sisters whose quiet work made well-rounded education happen over the decades.
Imagine the Ursuline Sisters who served and continue to serve God’s people in so many other ways, whether in education or in other kinds of service. The teachings of Jesus call us to answer the needs we see in the people around us. Some of our Ursuline Sisters founded important social services in Louisville, in West Virginia, in Peru, and many other places. These services empowered people on the margins of society or people whose needs were neglected. And in providing these various kinds of assistance, many co-workers and volunteers serving in these agencies and programs learned the art and the practical skills of leadership.
I learned leadership in, among other places, my Ursuline congregation. I’ve heard stories from my Ursuline Sisters about how they were assigned considerable responsibility when they were young, no matter their own sense of how ready they were for it! It was a school of learning as you go—learning from the other Sisters who gave tips and common sense advice on how to do what you thought you could not do. That is how leadership is learned, from stepping up, giving it a try and from the good people around us who share what they know about leadership.
Whether it is the upper case “L” Leadership or lower case “l” leadership, it is all about learning and listening from the guides that providence puts on the path with us. I am most interested in the one leader at the very beginning of our Ursuline family tree, Saint Angela Merici. We Ursuline Sisters refer to Saint Angela in a familiar way because we feel she’s a friend and companion, an example for us in the ways of Christian living. So, I will call her simply, Angela.
She must have been a leader, although Angela may not have described herself as a leader. In fact, she put a significant emphasis on humility. But the best leaders have humility as they grow to know themselves as flawed and still growing into wisdom and maturity.
From what I have learned, read and reflected upon in Angela’s writings and in books about her (especially Sister Martha Buser’s book, Also in Your Midst), it seems that the people around Angela looked to her for guidance and counsel. They knew she was wise, not only from her lifelong experiences, but also as they saw her and encountered her as a woman of profound prayer and reflection.
Angela learned in her family about leadership, about running a farm and managing a household. She learned about leadership and responsibility in her young adulthood from the Franciscans who sent her to Brescia to be a companion to a woman recently widowed. She visited the holy women of the locale, learning from them and taking in their deep trust in God. It is important to note that it wasn’t only the people in religious orders who served the poor or who led charitable programs. The lay people in Brescia, guided by their deep understanding of Jesus’ teachings, began and took responsibility for the works of charity so needed after the destruction of civic structures and services caused by the wars and by poor leadership in church and society at the time. Angela was a leader among leaders. It was a shared effort, as we would say today, a team effort.
I hope that you consider and reflect on your own leadership, your contributions to the good of the world or to the good of your family and your community. Over the years, the Sacred Heart Schools have taught the various skills of leadership and taking on responsibility. Students have learned how to solve problems together, how to match their skills and interests with what is most needed at the time. Teachers and staff have grown in their roles and in their accomplishments. Leadership is everywhere you look if you know how to look. Leadership is in our history and with the work of the Jean Frazier Leadership Institute, it is in our future.
Sister Agnes Coveney, OSU
Ursuline Sisters of Louisville
Jean Frazier Leadership Institute