Twice in the last two years, a group of Latin American women religious has come to Boston College for intensive, immersive courses in applied leadership, conducted entirely in Spanish and tailored to their needs by the Woods College of Advancing Studies. This fall, however, their destination was not Chestnut Hill, but Rome.

Woods College Latin American Sisters in Rome: attending Mass

The Woods College students visited the chapel at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross on their first day of classes there.

The women religious are participants in the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, arranged by Catholic Extension and supported by a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, in partnership with Boston College. Through the program, the women minister among Latino immigrant populations in underserved, mission-centered dioceses here in the U.S. while they receive the theological, language, cultural, and pastoral leadership training that will help them better serve their communities when they return home.

Due to the success of the women religious' first experience at BC in 2017, the exchange program now centers all of the organizational and leadership education for them at the Woods College.

Earlier this fall, the specialized master's degree program in applied leadership studies developed by the Woods College brought 12 of the women religious to Rome for a human and organizational behavior course taught by faculty from the Pontifical Lateran University, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and the Institute for Pastoral Management.

Woods College Latin American Sisters in Rome: a group studying

The course combined classroom-based learning and meetings with Vatican officials and clerical administrators.

For all but two of the women religious, the journey to Rome was their first. “One can only imagine what it means for them to be in such a holy place,” said Woods College Interim Dean David Goodman, who joined them in Italy along with Catholic Extension Senior Director of Mission Erika Cedrone and James Burns, IVD, the newly-installed president of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota who initiated the Latin American Sisters project during his tenure as dean of the Woods College.

Their gratitude was palpable, he said, as was their joy, evidenced by how they would often break into a song, chant, or a highly contagious laughter. “There is no guile or posturing among them," he said. "What’s more, one would never have guessed that they were jetlagged," as they immersed themselves in an itinerary jammed with academic lectures, group exercises, and course-related projects.

Woods College Latin American Sisters in Rome: In front of St. Peter's Basilica

Woods College Interim Dean David Goodman joined the sisters for a photo at St. Peter's Basilica.

The curriculum alternated between classroom-based learning and meetings with Vatican officials and clerical administrators who provided real-life, parish-oriented applications of the material presented. One of the lead faculty for the course, Fr. Philip Larrey of Pontifical Lateran University, was particularly impressed by the studiousness, intellect, and leadership acumen of the women religious, Goodman said.

Though their academic calendar was jammed, the trip also afforded the women the opportunity to explore the Eternal City through extracurricular activities including attending Mass in a small chapel adjacent to St. Peter’s burial site, an audience with Pope Francis, walking the Spanish Steps, visiting the studios of the international Catholic broadcaster EWTN, exploring the tomb of Society of Jesus founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, visiting the location of St. Paul’s martyrdom, and attending an evening private tour of the Vatican museums.

Woods College Latin American Sisters in Rome: stopping for an iced treat

The sisters pause in their hectic schedule to enjoy a treat.

The course in Rome was the seventh in a series of ten courses that the women religious are taking to fulfill requirements for the graduate degree in applied leadership studies, Goodman said.

Having finished an accounting course several weeks prior to the trip, the twelve are now in their final lap of the program, taking a course in research methods and data analysis and heading toward two final Woods College courses in the spring semester.

All who complete the program will then travel to campus next May for the official conferral of their master's degrees at Boston College Commencement.

In coming months, the Woods College hopes to welcome an additional two cohorts of women religious for study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

"We are honored to be able help the Latin American sisters acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to play significant, leadership roles in their congregations, whether here in the U.S. or in their home countries," Goodman said. "We look forward to continuing to our partnership with Catholic Extension and the Hilton Foundation."

University Communications | November 2018