Finding Community Among Contemplative Leaders in Action

By Sean Sanford and Sr. Lisa Buscher, RSCJ, The Jesuit Collaborative

CLA Participants in Atlanta, GA (Photo by The Jesuit Collaborative)

CLA Participants in Atlanta, GA (Photo by The Jesuit Collaborative)

Community. It’s the word that comes up over and over again. Participants in Contemplative Leaders in Action (CLA) come from diverse backgrounds and careers, but when asked why they applied to be part of this transformative program sponsored by The Jesuit Collaborative, the answer is almost always, “community.” Over the course of two years, in cohorts ranging in size from twelve to twenty, CLA participants delve deeply into Ignatian spirituality and learn what it means to be a leader in the Ignatian tradition. Through the experience, they form a tight-knit group of people committed to sharing their lives with one another.

For many young adults who are graduates of Jesuit schools and programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), CLA answers a great need. The emphasis on community throughout the Ignatian world leaves many alumni seeking people and places to build relationships, explore their faith, and share their joys and struggles. Some are fortunate to find parishes with active young adult or retreat programs, but failure to find such welcoming communities leaves many feeling unsupported or frustrated.

CLA Participants in PHiladelphia, PA (Photo by The Jesuit Collaborative)

CLA Participants in PHiladelphia, PA (Photo by The Jesuit Collaborative)

One Jesuit university alumna described her passion for the Ignatian way of being in the world, but found that without a support system, “it's easy to fall away from that." Many others are looking for ways to understand the call to serve and lead in their careers and communities. More are seeking to embrace fully what it means to live the Jesuit dictum to be women and men for others. These hopes and desires are being addressed through CLA, which gathers young adults together to reflect upon integrating their faith and work lives, explore Ignatian spirituality, and discern what it means to be principled leaders committed to the Church and the world.

CLA is a program of The Jesuit Collaborative, a spirituality ministry of the USA Northeast and Maryland Provinces of the Society of Jesus. Through prayer and retreat programs in the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Collaborative helps people grow closer to God. With a curriculum rooted in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, CLA engages young adult leaders between 25 and 35 years old in a twenty-four month process of discussion, discernment, and community building. Chris Lowney, a leadership development professional and author of Heroic Leadership and Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads, started CLA with the support of the Collaborative in New York City in 2008. Under the leadership of Mary Tracy, CLA quickly grew with new programs launching in Boston and Philadelphia in 2009, Washington, D.C. in 2010, Atlanta in 2012 and, coming this fall, St. Louis. Buffalo and Baltimore are currently preparing to launch programs in 2017 and affiliate programs have been started in Seattle, Orange County, CA, and Detroit. With well over 200 participants annually, CLA sustains a vibrant alumni network and community of supporters.

Where do these participants come from? CLA utilizes a process wherein Jesuits, pastoral and business leaders, and alumni of the program, nominate potential candidates. Nominees attend an information session and are interviewed for the program by local Regional Directors and members of the Regional Advisory Committees. The committees are comprised of local supporters – many of whom are graduates of Jesuit schools – program alumni, and members of the Society of Jesus. In addition to helping the Regional Director with recruitment and selection, committee members work with CLA to build a network of support, spread the word about CLA, and help to make each region’s program financially sustainable.

CLA Participants in Boston, MA (Photo by The Jesuit Collaborative)

CLA Participants in Boston, MA (Photo by The Jesuit Collaborative)

Participants in CLA attend monthly meetings and an opening and closing retreat. (There are also many opportunities for prayer, socializing and service outside of the scheduled program). Among the themes covered, cohort members learn about spiritual practices such as the Examen and Lectio Divina, and how to incorporate them into daily life. Even so, the focus of CLA is not only on personal spiritual development, but also on fostering leaders with the intellectual knowledge and practical skills to serve others. To that end, participants discuss ethical leadership, consider the themes of Catholic social teaching, and share the challenges of leading in the workplace, family, or local community.

During the last “semester” of the program, cohort members prepare a capstone project that attempts to synthesize their experience and what they have learned in a way that both advances their vocational discernment and serves others in their local communities. Capstone themes have included outreach to undocumented immigrants, an anti-death penalty initiative, retreats designed for working women, a blog on imagination, and an undertaking that fosters ethical fundraising, to name only a few!

CLA is part of a broader Ignatian outreach to young adults that includes ministries like JVC, CharisNYC, Jesuit Connections, alumni programs, and more. By attempting to nurture a generation of Catholic young adult leaders, CLA is reaching out to a distinctively under-served part of the Catholic community – young adults – and is targeting those leaders best positioned to make a positive impact on the world in which we live.

The Contemplative Leaders in Action program is currently accepting applicants for new cohorts starting in Fall 2016. For more information, please visit jesuit-collaborative.org/cla or contact CLA Director, Seán Patrick Sanford, at ssanford@jesuitcollaborative.org or Assistant Director, Sr. Lisa Buscher, RSCJ, at lbuscher@jesuitcollaborative.org.