Passionist Spirituality and Leadership (continued)
In May of 1968 my work as a teacher ended when I was elected Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province. My term of office was for six years, but I quickly decided that I would resign after three years, allowing the Province to choose a different leader if they desired. In 1971 I was elected again, this time for a term of four years. At the end of that period I was postulated for a third term. When the Vice General, Father Sebastian Camera telephoned the Congregation for Religious to approve the postulation, he learned that the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation had died that morning. The Secretary, Archbishop Myer, approved the postulation.
Vatican Council had just ended and the Church was struggling with the introduction of new patterns of thought and action. Many older people were deeply concerned about the new attitudes and many younger people were agitating for quicker and more radical changes. Numerous priests and religious were giving up their service of the Church. I remember an article in a national newspaper commenting that the only two clerical communities unscathed were the Columbans and the Chicago Province of Passionists. Three months after my election the first priest left our Province. Within about two years our departures had caught up with other communities. Those early years as Provincial were, without compare, the most difficult of my life. In three years I wept more than in the previous twenty-five.
Departures were not the only source of heartaches. As in any group, there were differences of opinion, often strongly held differences. Between deaths and departures the number of religious decreased and it was necessary to close monasteries. During my tenure I closed nine foundations, always causing hurt to some of those most closely affected. An inevitable part of leadership is making hard decisions or as I came to express it to other superiors: "That's what you get paid for." What some call "tough love" is one element of responsible caring. While leadership at any time involves difficulties, they were particularly acute during those years of change. Although incomparably modest in comparison to the reality experienced by Jesus, my difficulties were a keenly felt participation in the Passion. Eventually I came to know a measure of growth and a slight increase in patient understanding of the feelings of others. For five years I served as President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men [CMSM] in the United States and believe I was able to offer other superiors a bit of the same consolation that I had received.
In 1976 I was elected Superior General and spent the next twelve years in Rome. That was the richest experience of my life as I came to know our Congregation better and something of the universal church. I was privileged to serve on committees for the Congregations for the Propagation of the Faith and for Religious Life. I was appointed a Consultor to the former and eventually appointed a voting member of the Plenarium of the latter. Three times I was elected by the Superiors General to represent them at the Synods of Bishops on Family Life; Laity; Penance and Reconciliation. [Later the Bishops of the Antilles elected me as their delegate to the Synod on Religious Life.] Twice I served on the Board of Directors for the International Union of Superiors General. As a member of that Board I was part of a group of eight Superiors General that met about a dozen times with Pope John Paul II to discuss matters of common interest. These were two-hour sessions followed by lunch with the Holy Father. They were fascinating discussions. The Pope encouraged us to share our concerns and experiences frankly, reminding us that only by such an open exchange would we help him and members of our communities. I recall his saying one time something to the effect that "I like meeting with you men. Your experiences and interests are universal. So often a Bishop is interested only in his own diocese or, at most, his own country. You are interested in the universal church."
During my time in Rome I was able to visit every Passionist mission and meet almost every one of our religious. Usually I was able to speak with the local Bishop and also the Papal Representative. All of this, of course, gave me a greater awareness of the impressive work carried on by our Passionists in the wide variety of circumstances in different nations. It was an impressive reminder of that saying of our Founder, St. Paul of the Cross, that love is ingenious. Our religious found a rich variety of ways to teach and manifest the love of Jesus.
During those years after the Vatican Council each Province and Vice Province held at least one extraordinary Chapter or business meeting. Since the Superior General presides at each Chapter, I had numerous opportunities to listen to days of debate on issues affecting the life of the religious in each of our territories. These discussions were frequently heated exchanges because they touched values dear to the hearts of the men. I know of no better opportunity to learn the thoughts and appreciate the feelings of religious than to listen to their exchanges in a legislative assembly like a Chapter.