By Sr Roberta Ryan


From 20th to 24th November, 2012, nineteen Columban Sisters involved in Leadership, and representing all the countries where we are missioned, gathered with our Congregational Leadership Team in our Mother House in Wicklow, Ireland.  Our task for these days was to reflect and share on the challenges of living a participative style of leadership, as advocated by Vatican II, as we seek to respond to the unique challenges of 21st Century.

This workshop aimed at enhancing our organisational skills while also building our capacity not only as individuals but as groups who are committed to witnessing to gospel values wherever we live through our various ministries of service which include pastoral work, faith formation, interfaith dialogue, health, education and social work.
We were ably facilitated by Sr. Bridget Ehlert, SSL, who led the Workshop and who encouraged us to engage with every step of the process in an interactive way, and in doing this, we experienced the energy, insights and wisdom that flows when people work together in a participative way.

We revisited the 3 most common styles of leadership – top/down; leader to individual; and the participatory model, which is usually represented by a circle, and includes the designated leader – each person –and the group as a whole.
The participatory style calls for a climate of trust, mutuality and maturity where we seek to listen and respond to each other with openness, while striving to set aside our biases and prejudices. The roles taken on, in the service of the group, are clearly defined and periodically reviewed and decisions are reached by consensus.

The workshop highlighted for us the value of a well prepared and well worded agenda as ‘single’ words rarely convey what is meant or being asked for. The importance of finding ways to deal with assumptions, judgements, conflicts and resistances, and how to manage differences was also emphasised.   

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Meeting in small and large groups ‘to make the best decisions possible for the common good’

We looked anew at how to plan for meetings that advocated a participatory style and practical ways to accomplish this through committing ourselves to communal discernment. The art of decision making was also given a lot of time and attention.

As we worked through all the above we were enthused and challenged by others in the group who raised questions, made comments and drew attention to the human complexities that colour our best efforts. The facilitator pointed out to us, many times, that we all move in and out of the 3 different leadership models and that what we strive for together is: to make the best decisions possible for the common good.
The internationality reflected among us, as well as a good generational mix, ensured that our sharing was lively and thought provoking. There was no lack of courage when it came to speaking out of one’s own truth and experience.

The cement and glue that held together the work of each day was our time for quiet reflection on a given scripture passage with a named focus, in keeping with the topic of the day.  This was followed by faith sharing in small groups of 4 or 5 which remained constant for the length of the workshop. It was this that energised us to own the challenges put to us and which also empowers us to go back and share what we have learnt and experienced with our Sisters in the countries we have come from.

We do this in a spirit of gratitude for all that we have received through our working together with our Congregational Leadership Team and each other. We hope the work of these days will be a helpful contribution to our Congregational Leadership as they continue to work on the drawing up of a Strategic Plan as mandated by the 2011 Chapter.

“Some plant, others water but it is God who gives the increase.”

May the work of this Leadership Workshop bear much fruit for our on-going congregational life and mission.
Sister Roberta has been missioned for many years in Pakistan. Previously she was missioned in Korea and later served as a member of the Columban Sisters Central Leadership Team