The Jesuit who turns priests into leaders – Swiss Catholic Portal

David McCallum runs The Institute of Discernment Leadership in Rome, a fast-growing start-up. The American Jesuit Father and his associates are helping church leaders become more modern and effective leaders. He discusses the weaknesses of spiritual leaders, the potential for change in the Church, and Pope Francis’ leadership qualities.

Severina Bartonitschek, CIC, and adaptation: Raphaël Zbinden

The Leadership Discernment Institute is a project under the umbrella of the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU). David McCallum was named director of this institute in January 2021. Interview.

Church leaders don’t necessarily have a reputation for being very bright leaders…
David McCallum: Often, people rise to leadership positions in the Church with no prior training in the field. They were good as theologians or philosophers, but suddenly they have to run a department. In what area of ​​society does this happen? Yet that’s what we do in the Church, and it’s no wonder it causes frustration.

When a priest or religious is appointed bishop, or holds a leadership position in the Vatican hierarchy or in a religious order, he is faced with great responsibilities and many expectations. And sometimes he finds it difficult to answer them.

“Members of the clergy often feel they have nothing to learn from others.”

This can lead, in particular, to a need for control to restore some sort of order. This is not because these people are mean or malicious, but because they have been promoted beyond their capabilities.

Is there a difference at this level between clergy and laity?
It is striking that clergy often feel that they have nothing to learn from others. Some even consider continuous training as a personal attack. This resistance to being taught by outsiders, who are not clerics, is in some cases a by-product of their training.

How would you like to change that?
In our leadership program, there is no individual training. We have mixed groups of about 25 to 30 lay, religious and clergy people from all over the world. This diversity incredibly enriches the participants in their view of the world and, therefore, in their way of occupying their management positions.

Clerics’ experience is extremely positive, I would say 90%. They often experience a kind of transformation or conversion, realizing how much they can learn, for example, from nuns, who can be missionaries, or from highly qualified lay people, often much more than themselves.

How does this manifest itself in practice?
Many of our participants find that courage and training are important to being a good leader. That this requires at the same time a great willingness to be vulnerable. What it means: Admit you don’t have all the answers and ask others. Admit your weaknesses and mistakes. Being able to ask for forgiveness and learn from the experience. Take a risk, do something new and let some things die to give birth to others.

“We associate spiritual growth with developing one’s own leadership and management skills.”

The need is clearly great as the program continues to grow. You now offer courses in three languages ​​and are moving internationally.
We have noticed that leaders need this type of training, that they want something that is not related to church administration studies. They expect a formation rooted in our Catholic tradition. We thus associate the person’s spiritual growth with the development of their own leadership and management skills.

How’s the training going?
Our course consists of three phases. First, it is about reflecting on yourself, identifying your own strengths and weaknesses. The exercises make it possible to acquire tools and points of view resulting from various disciplines of direction and management.

In a second step, we move from individual personality to interpersonal relationships: team building, effective communication, even in conflict situations. To this end, participants develop Gospel-inspired solutions that speak of reconciliation, forgiveness, harmony and diversity. The third phase concerns the organizational level. How to diagnose systemic problems? How do you create internal solutions that drive change? How to implement an effective strategy? We connect participants with spiritual coaches and advisors. We also have consultants in various areas available to organizations.

Are senior Vatican officials participating in the program?
We have senior Vatican officials in management and leadership roles, as well as leaders of religious orders and lay people working in Catholic organizations. Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, for example, participated in our program before being appointed head of the Vatican’s Economic Secretariat (Pope Francis accepted his resignation on November 30, 2022, for health reasons, editor’s note).

‘When Pope Francis makes mistakes, he apologizes and tries to resolve what happened’

In principle, Vatican participants tend to be middle or senior managers. They have more careers ahead of them than ruling cardinals, for example, who typically hold office for a limited period.

What do you think of Pope Francis’ leadership qualities?
(Smiles) It is very difficult to talk about this as a fellow Jesuit. But François is, in my opinion, an exceptional leader. He himself went through several phases of command throughout his life, admitting that he had already been very authoritarian.

When he arrived in Rome, his mandate was clear: to reform the Curia. Francis does so with that trust in God that characterizes him and he is not afraid of criticism. In fact, he does not want to polarize – although he is perceived as a polarizing figure – but to serve the Gospel, the mission of the Church. I think he is able to understand the complexity of the world, as well as the real difficulties of Catholics.

So is he doing everything right?
It’s perfect? No, I don’t think so. But he probably doesn’t think so either. At times, his way of attacking certain aspects of the Church, such as clericalism, strikes me as a bit harsh. I wonder if he isn’t pushing people to their limits and turning them even more against him. I wonder if he wouldn’t do well to take another approach.

But I think he knows what he’s doing. Basically, he always showed integrity. When he makes mistakes, he apologizes and tries to work out what happened. (

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