Secretary General of the Vatican City State discusses a “Leadership of Care”

The 18th annual Terrence R. Keeley Vatican Lecture was given by Sister Raffaella Petrini, F.S.E., who serves as the Secretary General of the Pontifical Commission of the Vatican City State, the legislative body of the Vatican. Sr. Petrini, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist, earned a doctorate in social sciences from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, where she is now a professor of economics.

In her lecture, entitled “Integral Human Development through a Leadership of Care,” she proposed an answer to the so-called “social question,” addressing how social, political and business structures can be more conducive to human and spiritual development. According to Sr. Petrini, this is attainable through the use of a new leadership model informed by Catholic social teaching. 

Notre Dame Vice Presidents Fr. Bob Dowd, C.S.C., Fr. Austin Collins, C.S.C., and the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Joe Donnelly, attended the lecture. Fr. Collins introduced Sr. Petrini, noting that she “has constantly been an example and wise servant leader who seeks the care of the whole person while pursuing excellence in service.”

The talk was split into four sections. She began with a brief introduction to Catholic social teaching. According to Sr. Petrini, Catholic social teaching is the way in which “the Church presents Her response to the ethical questions raised over time by human societies.” She noted that Catholic social teaching “offers guiding principles, not technical solutions.”

Sr. Petrini explained that the “social question” originated in the class conflict of the late 19th and early 20th centuries between factory workers and factory owners. Since then, it has evolved into a “radically anthropological” question, as Pope Benedict XVI describes in Caritas in Veritate. According to Sr. Petrini, in that encyclical, the late Pontiff touched “upon, among other aspects, the way human life is manipulated and transformed by technology.” Sr. Petrini also quoted Pope Saint Paul VI’s thoughts on human development, the crux of the “social question,” that he gives in Populorum Progressio: “In order to be complete and authentic, it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man.”

The second section focused on the value of work within Catholic social teaching and how it can inform leadership. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes that work is not only a necessity but an integral “part of the meaning of life on earth” because it offers a “viable path to growth, human development, and personal fulfillment.” If work is integral to human development, then, Sr. Petrini argues, we must shift “from organizations that are primarily oriented towards efficiency and profit [and] competitiveness and personal gain, towards organizations that are essentially human-centered and sensitive to moral ethics—open to reciprocity and solidarity.”

Sr. Petrini then juxtaposed the features of two divergent leadership models in the third section of the lecture, a “neo-managerial” model and a more human-centered model. The goal of the “neo-managerial” model, Sr. Petrini said, is “the pursuit of mere profit and organizational efficiency,” which then “brings forth a very rigid separation between private life and professional life.” This separation gives rise to “profound personal dissatisfaction, frustration, and disappointment” among employees. 

The more human-centered model, according to Sr. Petrini, is one that places the human significance of its business activities before their professional significance, allowing for a greater “sense of belonging” in the workplace.

In the fourth section, Sr. Petrini defined some principles for what she terms a “leadership of care” oriented towards the human development of employees. Indispensable to this approach are “leaders in service of the people they lead,” instead of “managers directing and controlling people.” Under the “leadership of care,” businesses would shift focus from “maximizing value for shareholders to the ways in which leaders can make the lives of their team members easier … physically, cognitively, [and] emotionally.”

Sr. Petrini concluded the lecture by saying that a “leadership of care” must “tend first and foremost to the fragility of people and persons, … acknowledge the centrality of the human person, … nurture the gifts of each man and woman, and … invest in individuals and in those settings like the workplace where their talents are shaped and can truly flourish.”

After the lecture, there was a question-and-answer session, and, at the very end, Dr. Clemens Sedmak, Director of the Nanovic Institute, gifted Sr. Petrini with a framed painting comparing the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and Notre Dame’s own Golden Dome.

Freshman Matthew Scherber told the Rover, “Sr. Petrini spoke clearly to what it means to lead in an integrated manner, embracing the many diverse and often disparate aspects of a person’s life. She invited leaders to not only be managers of ‘human resources,’ but also loving witnesses of the Gospel who harmonize solidarity with their productivity.”

The lecture is available through a recording by the Nanovic Institute.

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Photo Credit: Photo by Katie Whitcomb / University of Notre Dame (used with permission from Keith Sayer of the Nanovic Institute)

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