The annual Higher Calling Series hosted nearly 120 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and members of the local business community on February 24. Michelle Rovang, director of Veritas Institute, welcomed attendees to the evening’s topic, “Respect in Action: Applying Subsidiarity in Business,” and introduced co-sponsors Veritas Institute of the Opus College of Business, the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership of the Center for Catholic Studies of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The event was inspired by the 2015 book of the same title, Respect in Action: Applying Subsidiarity in Business, co-authored by four University of St. Thomas faculty/adjunct faculty members: Dr. Jeanne Buckeye; Dr. Kenneth Goodpaster; T. Dean Maines; and Dr. Michael Naughton. The publication addresses business leaders who are committed to creating organizations where employees and firms can develop and flourish by implementing sustainable organizational changes consistent with the key principles of Catholic Social Thought. The message is directed to managers whose decisions and purposes influence not only the economy, but the lives of men and women around the world who work for them. Subsidiarity invites organizations to pursue the common good through practices that take the integral development of the human person at least as seriously as economic prosperity.
Following a prayer led by Rev. Larry Snyder, UST Vice President for Mission, Dr. Michael Naughton offered introductory remarks on the idea of the Catholic social principle of subsidiarity, its meaning, applicability, and its significance in a business environment. Practitioner perspectives were provided by the respondents, Emery Koenig and Sr. Maureen McGuire.
Sr. Maureen McGuire, Executive Vice President, Mission Integration, Ascension Health, spoke about her organization’s focus on subsidiarity in the face of growth and change. Ascension Health’s culture was built upon values of participation and respect. She shared how leaders are formed with an intentional focus on subsidiarity. Sr. Maureen also emphasized the importance of finding multiple ways to tell the story of change in order to reinforce employee commitment to actualizing the change. Ultimately, Ascension Health’s goal is to enhance associates’ sense of meaning and purpose as a part of the ministry and to determine how the organization can offer its gifts in new ways.
Emery Koenig, retired Vice Chairman and Chief Risk Officer, Cargill, Incorporated, spoke about the need for leaders to demonstrate genuine caring for their employees and colleagues. Koenig used the comparison between acting as a gardener versus a chess master. The leader who seeks to allow his/her co-workers to flourish will act as a gardener, nurturing the gifts and leadership potential of each individual. This is a much more unique model than the traditional chess master leader who calculates moves and allows those with the most power and least information to make the final decisions. Koenig provided examples of leadership lessons that embody the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and recognized that the concept may be practiced in secular organizations without employing the formal terminology.
The audience engaged in table conversations during dinner, discussing the remarks they had heard and sharing personal examples. Then all attendees reconvened for a question and answer session with panelists Koenig, McGuire, and Naughton, joined by Jeanne Buckeye, Ph.D., John A. Ryan Institute’s interim director and faculty member in the Opus College of Business. The panel addressed audience questions about institutionalizing subsidiarity in firms of all sizes, as well as the importance of work life integration, rather than work life balance.