Individualism In Community Life


David L. Fleming, SJ.



Sister Mary Johnson, who teaches at Emmanuel College in Boston, recently wrote an article with the provocative title “Bowling Alone, Living Alone: Cur­rent Social Contexts for Living the Vows” (Review for Religious, March/April 2000). She was stimulated in her reflections by the article “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” by Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam (Journal of Democracy, January 1995), in which bowling becomes a symbol of the dis­integration of communal bonds in American society. More Americans are bowling than ever before (10 percent more in a five-year period), yet at the same time, organized leagues have plummeted (a 40 per­cent decrease in the same five-year period). The bowling example represents a vanishing form of what so­ciologists call social capital, defined by Robert Putnam as “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual! benefit.” The definition points to a simple phenomenon: we are losing the glue that allows us to live and work together

Obviously, social capital is important for any soci­ety if its members are to be able to live and work to­gether well. Politics and the ideals of a nation are caught up in social capita! or its lack. We are much aware of it in the current political campaign. Do can­didates ever talk about the “big picture,” or do they speak only of what goods we as individuals will get out of this or that proposed agenda? The justice sys­tem, both in its courts and in its prison system; our social welfare care for the poor, the elderly, and the physically challenged; our national response to im­migrants and refugees—all show the presence or absence of social capital. The vitality of the church life within a nation is reflected in its ability to engender strong social capital, at least within its membership. Do we see that kind of “glue” among us as Catholics, even in regard to a consistency in attitudes toward life issues? Women and men religious are well aware that the vibrancy of religious life rests on its social capital. We are part of a much bigger picture. Church and state are both part of the dominating social mi­lieu. So it is necessary for us to pay attention to the social context in which we try to live our religious community lives, in which we try to stir up voca­tions and then to provide suitable formation, and in which we care for the elderly and the impaired.

Sociologists also draw our attention to a certain ap­parent countertrend. There has been a large prolif­eration of non-profit organizations and various kinds of support groups. At first this might seem to repre­sent a growth in social capita!. But members of non-profit organizations generally do not commit to com­ing to any events or even to maintaining a consistent participation level. One can just have one’s name at­tached to the organization, and that is all the “be­longing” that is realized. As we know from the expe­rience of many others as well as our own, support groups present the occasion to focus On self in the presence of others. In one of the most famous forums of support group, the Alcoholics Anonymous model, people deliberately use their first names only. Thus, while the support system is fine, individualism is highly protected, and the “belonging” gift of self is not present. These examples of what seems to be coun­tertrends tend to highlight the individualistic trends within the social context of life. They model, per­haps, a new from of individualistic behaviour and avoidance of group commitment.

Another version of this countertrend may exist in many of the associate programs connected with reli­gious life. Consider this question in your own reflec­tion: Do associate programs, sponsored with renewed vigour by many religious groups as own membership numbers decline, represent our own form of support group requiring only a minimal commitment? The movement may be good, but have we explored whether we are being cooperative with our culture or merely co opted by it?



Some terms that seem a necessary part of any con­versation about individualism are individualism, in­dependence, idiosyncrasy, and solipsism.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines in­dividuals in as follows: “(1): a doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount [this also describes conduct guided by such a doctrine]; (2): the conception that all values, nights, and duties originate in individuals.” This seems to indicate that the individualistic person is re­ally quite self-centered. Such a person is a sun around which other celestial bodies revolve, a sun within a solar system.

Sometimes when we mean to say that a person is individualistic, we describe him or her as indepen­dent. The dictionary defines independence as “the quality or state of being independent.” And indepen­dent is defined as “not subject to control by others; self-governing” and “not affiliated with a larger con­trolling unit.” It can also mean “not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood),” not look­ing to others for their opinion or for guidance in conduct, and “showing a desire for freedom.”

Idiosyncrasy is defined as “a peculiarity of constitution or temperament” or “individual! hypersensitiveness (as to a drug or food).” We might add, in our context, hypersensitivity to community life and its demands.

Finally, solipsism is defined as “a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifica­tions and that the self is the only existent thing.” The dictionary does not go on to say that the person who lives in accordance with such a theory constructs his or her own self-centred world. Such a person is a sun with no recognized solar system.

All these terms apply to individuals but highlight different sets of qualities. This illustrates that individualism is a complex phenomenon and needs to be worked with carefully. The same person may show traits of independence at some times and at other times display traits of idiosyncrasy.

The following examples involving these terms concern men because their persona! experiences are ones that I think I can fairy reflect on from my own leadership history.



Al, in his late fifties, continues to serve as pastor of a little country parish. He has not joined in on any province events for the past fifteen years. One time, when attendance at a province assembly was manda­tory, he did not show up, saying that he was sick. Similarly, at the time of a required province retreat, he was suddenly unable to travel, citing a twisted knee. In fact, he seems to have no contact with any­one in the congregation. He says mass and does the necessary sacramental ministry for his small flock of aging parishioners. He steals away as often as he can to fish in a nearby lake—by himself. How would you describe Al?

Bill, in his late forties, has always been a man of a mission: he keeps moving from one mission to an­other. His name would be on the new assignment list every year. Of course, he tends to search out his own jobs. The jobs always have merit, and Bill easily talks superiors into his latest venture, sometimes only after he has already indicated his commitment. Some say that Bill is a real apostle; others say that Bill is always off “doing his thing.” Bill is always seen at the required province events and talks easily with a wide variety of people. But he never sits down; he is always on the move. A lot of congregation mem­bers say that they have talked with Bill, but no one claims to “know” him. How would you describe Bill?

Charlie is in the theology years of his formation. He is 35 years old and has been in the congregation for eight years, after having worked for a couple of years as a social worker. He seems to surround himself with all the latest electronic equipment. Of course, he has his own computer and printer, with network ac­cess. He always has his cellular phone with him. He has his television and videocassette player with quite a collection of films, along with a marvellous sound system and a storehouse of compact discs and tapes. Charlie keeps up in his classes; he is an average stu­dent. But he throws himself into his pastoral ministry preparation work with young people. He’s right where they are, really at their wavelength. Seminary officials are a little bit concerned that Charlie never works with other seminarians. He never seems to en­gage in any common projects. How would you de­scribe Charlie?

Dan has retired to the “big” community of the province at the age of 75. He has a heart condition and is troubled by arthritis in his hands and knees. Dan was a rock-solid member of the province for some fifty years, but now he has withdrawn. He keeps to his room, sometimes not even answering a knock on the door. He tends to eat at the earliest possible meal time, avoiding others as much as possible. Two of his best friends in the congregation have died over the past three years. Now no one seems able to reach out to him. How would you describe Dan?



Individualism can be talked about in a positive light. We might describe an “individualistic” person as having initiative, using imagination, possessing a sense of persona! freedom, and taking responsibility. A person with a certain degree of individualism could be described as a true adult, having or approaching a certain level of maturity.

But more often, a person with whom we associate individualism is thought of as self-centred, with a rugged independence and a “me-first” attitude. With this more negative connotation, there is a sugges­tion of the basic sin of pride about the concept of in­dividualism. Taking a cue from our way of making a division between sins of commission and sins of omission, I would suggest that we might need to lo­cate individualism not so much by what we think it contains but rather by what it seems to lack. For ex­ample, I might describe a person with a certain indi­vidualism as having such failings as a lack of social sense, a lack of imagination, a lack of involvement, a lack of needing completion in others, a lack of team spirit, or a lack of a sense of a Trinitarian God, a God who is communion. Spiritually considered, is not the person who is individualistic modelling (and wor­shiping) a God who too is alone, a solipsistic God? It is hard to be truly a Christian and to be individualis­tic as well. We have a Trinitarian God whose very life is relationship and love. We have a kingdom or reign of God, about which we are busy, with Christ, but knowing all along that it is God’s work and God’s do­ing. We can only work with God and so with one an­other. At its root, individualism represents a failure to ground oneself in a faith that believes that God is communion and that our life, if we are to be like God, is communion-oriented. Religiously or spiritu­ally, this is where we find our social capital, our glue. If this kind of faith is absent or not emphasized in our congregational life, are we caught up in the same lack that characterizes our secular friends?



Some areas of religious life seem to raise particular difficulties in regard to individualism.

Vocation Recruitment.

A number of vocation pro­moters have reflected that we often do not construct effectively our vocational literature for people to­day. We often boast about or focus solely on what we do. The person making inquiry consistently has two questions: How do we pray? How do we live community life? What we do is certainly important, but the inquirer usually already has some sense of what we do by virtue of previous contact with one of our ministries. Vocational literature that pictures only a priest baptizing, a brother teaching, or some­one preaching or visiting at a bedside is not the best or most effective. The concern of most inquirers is not the sphere of service. For a person who is corn­ing out of this individualistic culture and is seeking something more, the concern is about the spiritual­ity that brings us together and keeps us together; and about the ways we live together and support one another in such a life. These people have al­ready experienced the lack of social capital or “glue” in their lives. They are looking to religious life for this ingredient missing from the larger social mi­lieu. They are individuals, but they are not satisfied with individualism.

Our congregations and communities have the re­sponsibility to answer truthfully these questions:

How do we pray? Or do we? How do we live com­munity life? Or do we really live a life that is communal? These are not questions for just the vocation promoter to answer. The answers that our commu­nity members give to these questions reveal the level of individualism that has invaded religious life. The answers also indicate whether future vocations will come and will stay.

Understanding of the Vows.

Johnson’s article “Bowling Alone, Living Alone” focuses only briefly on the vow of celibacy or celibate chastity. That article and two subsequent ones in Review for Religious were originally presented at an October 1999 sym­posium on the theme “Living Celibate Chastity in a Sexually Confused Culture.” Johnson’s piece exam­ined, and this article briefly delineates, a larger con­text in which a!! three vows could be considered.

In our present context, the emphasis has changed in explaining and living the vows. Perhaps at one time the vows were looked upon as a very personal matter between the individual and God. Vows almost supported a certain individualism. I suppose that the majority of people in religious life today, being older, have been formed in this way. Most of our commu­nity members would probably consider the vows a very individual concern. The younger members and potential members, however, expect the vows to be understood and lived in a more communal way. Any explanation of the vows of religious life needs today a careful balancing and interweaving of the persona! (individual) and communal (community) aspects. The social capita!, or “glue,” within the observance of our vows needs to be much more clearly presented and lived.

Our observance of the vow of poverty does not come from a theoretical presentation (the Rule) or from tradition (the way we used to do it). I suspect that current members in every one of our congrega­tions range over a wide spectrum in terms of how they live poverty. So what do we present to new mem­bers who come from Generation X or out of a post modem mentality that lives by the individual case or situation, not by some generalized theory already proven inadequate? What are the guidelines that we live as a group, the expectations that we as a group share about our common life? What are the para­meters of individual choice about our congregation members’ living a vow of poverty?

Poverty needs to be seen as a way of using God’s gifts. The focus of poverty today is not on the non-use of material things but on the use of them or the way we use them, as reflected in our ecological sensitiz­ing. We need to acknowledge that the vow of poverty is not observed in a uniform fashion in our congre­gation and among the members of a community. We represent the pluralism of our time. Pluralism means engagement with our differences. Our living the vow of poverty needs regular examination in our com­munities, especially as we take in any new member. We need to engage with and agree about the para­meters of our life as a community: how we eat, en­tertain, use cars, and so on. We also need to engage, as a group, with our expectations of the parameters to be observed even by the individuals within the group: the kind of vacations we take, the budget 1ev-els we observe, the meaning of a simple lifestyle. Members of a group have a responsibility to observe the norms expected of the participants. And so poverty has its communal and personal understand­ings and lifestyle. The vow of poverty should be part of our “glue,” our social capita!, bringing us more closely together in life and in work.

In a similar way, we approach the vow of celibate chastity. Chastity needs to be thought of and pre­sented as a way of loving. It does not represent a non-loving approach to the word and to our fellow men and women. To be a religious celibate demands that we grow in being affective people. Jesus is our model, and we are always learning how to love bet­ter the way that Jesus loves. Once again, the older members among us (most likely, the majority of us) were brought up with a chastity of distance, more defined by ritual purity. Much of the earlier explana­tions of celibate chastity could have been written by a pagan or a stoic. Our chastity is always basically de­fined as a way of loving in the way Jesus loves. Younger members and potential members expect to live lives in a community setting where there is evi­dent affection. They expect to maintain friends of both sexes, and they look forward to a ministry that allows them to be seen as people who love and know how to receive love. The vocation inquiry question about how we live community is tied up with our un­derstanding and living of the chastity vow.

Religious congregations differ in the evident warmth and hospitality of their communities. Indi­viduals certainly differ in the expression of affection because of personality type, farni!y upbringing, eth­nic background, and cultural background. A certain pluralism is necessary today in the way that we live the vow of chastity. We must engage with our differ­ences in terms of what this means for our community life—for example, our ways of showing hospitality, our ease at having both women and men guests in our common areas, our ability to work with both women and men partners in ministry. Individuals, perhaps easy in showing their affections in proper celibate ways, still need to observe the common norms to which we as a congregation commit our­selves. The living of celibate chastity needs to be ne­gotiated in a communal way, both for ongoing per­sona! support and for evaluating regularly our life together, especially as it welcomes themes. Chastity, too, should provide the social capital that brings us together in life and in work.

We often think of the vow of obedience as the one touching on the problem of individualism. Without statistics to support me, I would venture to say that those of us in religious !ife who are older (again, probably the majority in our congregations) accept the vow of obedience as a part of the package of working within the religious congregation. Before Generation X, this kind of obedience was found in so­ciety at large. We all have been affected by the climate of change and permissiveness that was part of reli­gious life’s response to Vatican Il renewal. But younger members and potential members seem to show more immediately their individualism when it comes to the vow of obedience. They seek a dialogue obedience: they expect to present options, they expect to be listened to, to be reasoned with. They expect a true dialogue; they do not expect, “I command; you obey.” Whereas those of us with an older under­standing of obedience may have considered only our own persona! action as being obedient, the newer emphasis for obedience places its meaning in “for us.” Obedience always makes present the “we.” When I am assigned to work in a soup kitchen, “we”—the community, the congregation—are present in the soup kitchen. The failure in obedience today is the failure to have the “we” present. No one can find his or her own job, no one can self-assign, and still be obedient. It is true that obedience, like the other vows, requires negotiation, which can be stressful and time-consuming. But obedience is recapturing, especially in our scattered numbers, the communal sense of what we as a congregation are all about. The vow of obedience, then, is one more element in the social capital that binds us in our life and work together.


Gerald Arbuckle, a Marist anthropologist, has written a number of books on the theme of refounding. He holds that the “renewal” we talked about and worked at after Vatican Il remained too much of a surface change. In terms of religious life,

Arbuc!de believes that what we really need is a true refounding and insists that “the new belongs else­where.” In a rather crass way, I would take this to mean, for instance, not scattering three of our younger priests in parishes or works in which the older members of the congregation who are already present are fixed in their ways of living and minister­ing. I think Arbuckle is calling for these three priests to be set up in a new community and a new work. Then these three men would find mutual support for their life together and for their way of ministering.

I worked with Arbuckle in two years of workshops a decade ago, but I was never convinced of the principle “the new belongs elsewhere.” To me, it seemed divisive for a congregation to adopt that principle. I kept thinking that al! of us in a province or congre­gation should keep coming along, and it would just take time. Bigger communities and traditional works could be the settings for anything new.

Now, however, I have changed my outlook. If I were a superio1~ I think that I would be more open to trying this approach today. I find that young reli­gious are being worn down by a community of men whom they love and respect but who offer them lit­tle of the support they need. I think the imaginations of younger members are held down by the weight of tradition that encases many of our ministries and the ways we go about them. Whereas I formerly lumped “the new belongs elsewhere” with a certain kind of individualism, I now tend to see it with all the good connotations of individualism. I propose that we should give fair consideration to the principle “the new belongs elsewhere.”

Call to Empower Others.

We have often referred to the current part of church history as the age of the laity. One of the principal tasks that we religious have set for ourselves has been an empowering of the laity. But have we really thought through what it is that we want to happen? To have power usually means that someone else is the recipient, the one upon whom the power is being exercised. Power can be used, even in church circles, with only its secular meaning. God best shows the face of being the all-powerful! as Jesus looks down from the cross. Power for God is imaged in Jesus’ plaintive cry, “Will you leave me, too?” when followers left over his promise of being our food and drink. Divine power has quite a different meaning from secular power When we seek to empower someone, I be­lieve that we need to remember clearly that we find our roots in a spiritual life world. It is true that we are empowering to live in this very secular world, but the empowering comes from God, and we are dealing with the world of grace. If we root our meaning of empowering in God, and if we are about what God is doing in us, then I believe that we reli­gious do have a mission of empowering. Again, we are building up the social capital; we are providing the glue.

incorporating the Alien.

In my travels to foreign countries, I have been struck, at times, when I need to stand in a visa entry line that is identified for aliens. I keep looking around to see if anyone looks like they belong on Star Trek. Then I begin to won­der whether I look like I belong on Star Trek. Alien is such an off-putting word.

I want to share with you another change in my thinking since the time I was a provincial superior. I believed that I had an openness to other cultural or ethnic groups—for example, African American, His­panic, and Asian, particularly Vietnamese. When I en­tered the Jesuits, there was one African American in our group of sixty seven. My sister knew his father She was a secretary working in the Arcade Building in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, and he worked as a janitor there. They would get together to talk about us as we went through the novitiate experiences. The janitor’s son was a college graduate, and I was just out of high school. We were friends, but not dose friends—with family connections. I did not realize then, nor even when I was provincial, how much the traditional American “melting pot” analogy of incorporation permeated my whole understanding of how we live and work together I had little idea of what we were asking any African American to do in joining our white United States Society of Jesus. We made little or no accommodation: you join us, and you fit in with how we worship, how we express affection, how we celebrate, what we celebrate, what our humour is, what our values are. We seemed to say, If those other people—those “aliens”—did not fit into our way of seeing things, our way of living, then the melting pot had not worked; too bad for them. We felt no guilt, and we blamed it on individualism—on the ethnic or cultural scale.

I have a sense of being in a very different place now. I am afraid that the “melting pot” image may be too much a part of our religious life incorporation. I think that we have to ask this question carefully:

How do we distinguish community or congregation heritage and tradition from cultural accretions? If our congregations have a true openness to various ethnic and cultural groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, do we ask them how can we !come, how we can become a “we” with them, how we can truly support them within the community? Do we negotiate ways of praying and worshiping at times that would accommodate them

and let us share in their gifts? Do we make accommodations at times to celebrate in their fashion? Do we make accommodations to their sense of commu­nity? Yes, we need to acknowledge plurality; remember; however; that plurality means engagement with our differences. I question whether we in American religious life are successfully meeting the challenge of welcoming vocations from various ethnic groups. It is not a question of their individualism; it is a ques­tion of ours. I believe that this is a major challenge for the future of religious life in this country, and a challenge for the church.

Religious Life: Beginning and Ending.

Individualism seems to confront religious life particularly in its beginnings (postulancy, prenovitiate, and novi­tiate) and in its final stages (retirement or infir­mary—which has a certain newness about it, since we are living longer after active working years). How to incorporate a person into our community or congregation is a question that takes a number of forms. The genera! question of how to incorporate needs serious attention because the older formulas, practices, and rules need radical reassessment. Even more difficult is the task of making real the true incorporation of those who are feeling useless and infirm. Our American value system, perhaps even reinforced in our culture of religious life, puts the sole value on the productive person, the one who works to earn his keep. Men, it appears, far more than women, do not know how to retire grace­fully. In retirement, men tend not to sew or knit or make greeting cards; men tend to collapse or be­come couch potatoes before a television set or get grumpy and mean. Religious men all too often with­draw like old bears into a cave, waiting to die. Older members frequently tend not to make any effort to contribute to the congregation or community. What can superiors and congregation members do to off­set this tendency among our older members? Be­cause of the newness of the phenomenon, I am not sure that we have any answers. There is a kind of in­dividualism here, but it needs to be faced in a differ­ent way than the types we have discussed so far



I would identify three needs that leadership should try to fill. First, leadership must fill the need to dia­logue. Leaders have to be able to converse, to talk with everyone. Leaders have to hear Jesus’ words over and over again: “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.” Leaders cannot be afraid to dialogue. To di­alogue, we have to be very good listeners. If we listen carefully and really hear what is being said, we will have no time for fear. We will experience times when we are not being heard, when there is great fear of us because of our power role. At those times especially, we need to try to explain and to exemplify by our own behaviour what true dialogue is: a real listening, a real respect, an ability to engage ourselves in our differ­ences. Some anger, some pain, and surely some dis­appointment and frustration will result from our dialogue attempt—for others and for ourselves. We need to remember that we are entering into Jesus’ experience. Jesus was the dialoguer par excellence— and he did not always meet with success.

Second, leadership needs to empower. By draw­ing on the grace of our leadership office, we enter oth­ers into the grace of God’s empowerment. This is more than just giving someone a pat on the back, more than just giving thanks for a job well done. By the grace of office, we have the ability to enter peo­ple into the grace of valuing their worth and work. We put them in the context of God’s continuing cal! and God’s desire that they work alongside him. We have the responsibility to grace people with a sense of mission. We are empowering them because, like Jesus’ first followers, they are sent; they have a dy­namism provided by the God with whom they are now working.

Third, leadership needs to articulate vision. Lead­ers need to be the “point men” for the “we” vision. Ai! of us need to be caught up beyond the boundaries of our own living situation and ministry. Leaders have to knit together all the various works of the province or congregation and give the picture of the “we” be­ing on the mission. Jesus can be very attentive to the immediate need at hand, but at the same time he always continues to speak out the vision. How do we, as leaders, break out of our own individualism? Above al!, by speaking out the “we” vision for our life and our ministry.



In Vita Consecrata, his apostolic letter on religious life, the pope identifies the special responsibility of religious to be agents of communion. I personally have found it to be a stirring call to religious life at this time. The pope points out that never has there seemed to be a greater need for dialogue and recon­ciliation in every aspect of human living. We can start within our own church, where there are tensions between conservatives and liberals, between hierar­chy and laity, sometimes even between religious and clergy. There are tensions within our congregations, between young and old, between Americans with European roots and those of different cultural back­grounds, between heterosexuals and homosexuals.

There are tensions within our civil society, between rich and poor, between African Americans and whites, between “pro-lifers” and “pro-choicers.” There are tensions between religious groups: Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, Muslim and Christian, Hindu ai-id Muslim. There are tensions between countries in the Middle East and the Balkans, be­tween China and Taiwan. However small we want to make the problem, or however global, we religious could act as agents of communion.

Our ability to dialogue and to reconcile is the first ministry needed of us all today. I hear the pope’s call as an appropriate renewal of Saint Paul’s call for Christians to be ambassadors of reconciliation. We are called to be agents of communion. How can we bring people together? How can we get them to talk with one another? Of course, that demands that we be together ourselves, that we have no one in our midst to whom we cannot talk. What a demand that puts on our community living. What a demand that puts on our way of ministering. What a direct attack on the individualism of our time it would be if we re­ligious truly took on our responsibility to be agents of communion. Responding to the pope’s cal!, we would certainly be going against the tendencies of our cul­ture. We wound be trying to emphasize the social capital; we would be trying to be part of the glue ourselves.



I am aware that in this article on some of the issues that individualism, in all its complexity, presents to religious life today, I have at times painted with fairly broad strokes, and I hope that religious can continue to clarify and discuss the issues through conversa­tions with one another Toward that end, I offer the following case studies to help engage us in reflecting carefully on the complex issue of individualism in religious life and community.

Case 1. Ricardo is a first-generation Mexican Amer­ican from San Antonio, Texas. He is 32 years old and is now part of the national novitiate program in a Midwestern city. Ricardo is the only Hispanic among the eight men in the program. There is a 24-year-old Vietnamese, Ricardo notes, but he was born in this country and is very Americanized. Ricardo is surprised that he finds no images of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the novitiate. In fact, the chapel and house seem rather bare of devotional pictures and images. Ricardo finds the novitiate house cold and impersonal. The other novices— mostly midwesterners with German-origin names— seem stoic and rather emotionally reserved. He himself feels hindered in conversation and recre­ation because he speaks out with passion and likes to joke around. He begins to wonder whether his accent puts off his fellow novices. Do they under­stand what he is saying, or do they even care to ask questions and find out? He feels a little lonely. The novice director is a good man, but he seems to run everything “by the book.” Ricardo asks if they could ever have a meal of tacos, enchiladas, and refried beans; he is told by the director that the cook knows only how to prepare meat and potatoes. He inquires as to whether he can teach the other novices a cou­ple of Spanish hymns for liturgy and is told, “Maybe later” Ricardo is wondering now, after six months, whether he made a mistake in entering this congre­gation. You are the provincial for Ricardo and are making a visit to the novitiate community. What would your conversation be like?

Case 2. Vince is 55 years old. He has been in the congregation since he was 20. Vince has always had the reputation of being something of a loner. He seems to be a man of few words and few friends. He has been in parish work all his priestly life, usually assigned to one of the com­munity’s downtown churches, where the con­gregation has three or four active priests, plus forum or five others who are semi retired but help out for masses, confessions, and other devotions and incidental conversations. Vince is a! ways consis­tent in doing what he is assigned. He does it and then returns to his room. Since the last congregational chapter; there has been a great empha­sis on community life and welcoming others into it, including inviting others into our dining room at various times of celebration. There has also been strong encouragement locally to work with other agencies in the downtown area for outreach to the poor and the transient. Priests have been asked to work with other lay ministers and some pro­fessional social workers. This wonk is being financed by a much-ballyhooed mutual funding between the diocese and the regional business development agency. You have received a letter from Vince requesting a change in assignment if at all possible. He does not explain, but you have suspicions about why he is asking at this time. You are coming on a provincial visit, and you want to encourage Vince to try to stay the course. He is the youngest priest on the staff, and his work is really necessary. How would you enter into this conversation?

Case 3. Walt is 78 years old. He was involuntarily re­tired to a large community of ten men who live in a house with multiple ministry outlets. Walt had been a great mission man in his day, and even in his later years he loved to give retreats—at retreat centers, for the cloistered nuns in their convents, and occasionally for a parish. Walt’s eyesight began failing him, and he could no longer drive or even easily read his notes for his talks. In addition, he had a bout with prostate cancer; then, shortly afterward, he had an operation for colon cancer As a result, he has been quite weakened, but he is sti!! not willing to put his life on a shelf. The provincial preceding you had made the decision for Walt’s retirement. Walt was most unhappy with the decision and with the move to this community. The response to Walt from the renumbers of his present community is that Walt is ei­ther so withdrawn that he contributes nothing, or he is lecturing them on all that is wrong with the world, as if they are on retreat. They want you, as Walt’s provincial, to talk with him. On your visit o this community, how would you want to engage Walt?