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By Fr. Mario Fernandes, S.J.
Mar 31st, 2017

The Characteristics of Jesuit Education stresses the importance of Lay-Jesuit Collaboration stating: Lay-Jesuit Collaboration is a positive goal that a Jesuit school tries to achieve in response to the Second Vatican Council and to the recent General Congregations of the Society of Jesus. Because this concept of a common mission is still new, there is a need for growing understanding and for careful planning. Echoing the theology ratified by the Second Vatican Council, especially its decree On the Apostolate of the Laity, recent General Congregations of the Society of Jesus have insisted on lay-Jesuit Collaboration, through a shared sense of purpose and a genuine sharing of responsibility, in schools once exclusively controlled and staffed by Jesuits.

GC 36 in Decree 2 ‘Renewed Governance for a Renewed Mission’ underlines the importance of Collaboration as an important perspective on our contemporary way of proceeding. GC 35 stated that “Collaboration in mission…. expresses our true identity as members of the Church, the complementarity of our diverse calls to holiness, our mutual responsibility for the mission of Christ, our desire to join people of good will in the service of the human family, and the coming of the Kingdom of God.” GC 36 recognizes the decisive role of our partners in the vitality of the Society’s mission today and expresses its gratitude to all who contribute to and play significant roles in Jesuit ministry. That mission is deepened and ministry is extended by collaboration among all with whom we work, especially those inspired by the Ignatian call.

Lay Jesuit CollaborationHow do we understand Collaboration? Collaboration in Jesuit schools can and should be broadly understood as Collegiality, Partnership, Cooperation and Companionship. Jesuit Education today stresses Lay-Jesuit collaboration. It relies on a spirit of community among teaching staff and administrators. It is the way we welcome one another as colleagues in faith and the way we welcome the gifts of others. Ideally, in a Jesuit school, there is a willingness on the part of both lay people and Jesuits to assume responsibilities.

Women’s Day Celebrations

Efforts are made to achieve a true union of minds and hearts, and to work together as a single apostolic body in the formation of students. There is therefore a sharing of vision, purpose and apostolic effort. Collaborators in Jesuit institutions are considered as ‘companions’ rather than employees. “Let Jesuits consider the importance for the Society of such collaboration with lay people, who will always be the natural interpreters for us in the modern world and so will always give us effective help in the apostolate.” “We must be willing to work with others…….. willing to play a subordinate, supporting, anonymous role; and willing to learn how to serve from those we seek to serve.” (Go forth and Teach; The Characteristics of Jesuit Education)

Jesuit collaborators are treated with dignity and respect, as partners in service for the greater glory of God. Jesuits work ‘with’ them, hand in hand, heart and heart. Together they work “for” others, particularly those who are most in need of help, on a daily basis. In the process, they arrive at a level where they can experience solidarity with the poor and marginalized, and even develop a sense of social justice that motivates them to fight for the rights of the underprivileged. In brief, Jesuits and their collaborators strive to be a voice for the poor and to give the poor a voice!

St. Xavier's School, Shrirampur

St. Xavier’s School, Shrirampur, Primary Section

Lay collaboration has come a long way in the West, especially in the US, Europe and Australia. With dwindling numbers and a severe shortage of personnel, we have reached a stage when schools can no longer be served by Jesuit personnel, and increasingly lay men and women become part of the common enterprise of Jesuit Schools. This adds urgency to the process of collaboration. Collaboration between Lay and Jesuit members is slowly taking hold. But we are far from our goal. It needs intensification. We need to realise the great opportunities that collaboration offers. Jesuits must find new avenues of ‘conversation’ and dialogue wherein they listen to their lay colleagues who struggle to articulate the commitment and spirituality within themselves. More expansive efforts at developing programs for the leadership training of lay colleagues, Ignatian legacy programs and Retreats are needed. We need to share our common vision with our lay collaborators and then implement it in our Jesuit schools. We need to have a vision of where we are going, of what has to be achieved, of some outcome and of how we as collaborators work towards that outcome. The Jesuit leader should keep reminding our collaborators of the vision and to encourage them to keep going.

St. Xavier’s School, Shrirampur, Republic Day Celebration

The experience of collaboration of many of our collaborators has not been very positive. I remember a panel discussion we had at the Jesuit Triennial for School Principals in Pune in November 2012. While listening to some of their positive experiences shared by the four panellists (our collaborators both religious and lay), they were all unanimous about their painful discussions, arising out of frustration with the clergy and clericalism in the Church and Society. Many perceive it to be a lack of support on the part of young Jesuits for the lay vocation in the Church.

St Xavier's Shrirampur

St. Xavier’s School, Shrirampur, High School

Unfortunately, many lay persons have witnessed numerous situations in which Jesuits have conveyed an attitude of superiority towards their lay counterparts by presuming that they had much to teach the laity and little to learn from them. The lay persons in our schools are person of real faith too, of remarkable spirituality, talent and leadership skills. Lay persons are apostles in their own right, not participants in someone else’s apostleship. Often the lay leaders come as a threat to the young Jesuits who may have an ego problem. And it is here that problem starts and begins to snowball. All attempts are made to harass and persecute them. I am convinced we need to train our young Jesuits in the importance of the vocation of the laity and the significant contribution they make to our ministry of education.

Let me end with a tribute to our collaborators.“We are humbled and grateful that so many… have chosen both to work with us and to share our sense of mission and our passion to reach out to the men and women of our broken but lovable world.  We are enriched by members of our own faith, but also by people from other religious traditions, those women and men of good will from all nations and cultures, with whom we labour in seeking a more just world. Rich is the harvest. In many countries, important Jesuit works depend largely on the generous, loyal, and skilled collaboration of women and men of diverse religious and humanistic convictions.” (A statement from Decree 6 of the Thirty-fifth General Congregation (2008) of the Society of Jesus).

Let us all Pledge for fulfilling this dream with greater collaboration in our schools.

Fr. Mario Fernandes, S.J.

PCE, and JEA West Zone Co-ordinator