November 17th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

When Pope Francis was put on laundry duty

Opinion by Chris Lowney

(CNN) - Every day, millions of Americans perform a task that epitomizes Pope Francis’ leadership style: They do the laundry.

I came to that somewhat surprising conclusion while talking to Jesuit priests who lived with the future Pope, then known as the Rev. Jorge Bergoglio, during the early 1980s. At the time, they were young Jesuit seminarians, and he was their “boss,” the rector of their 100-member community.

“He was very demanding when it came to studies,” one of them told me. “Do what you’re doing and do it well,” he used to say.

But the rector wanted the budding Jesuits to learn from people, not just from books.

“He used to send us to the opera and also have us clean the seminary bathrooms, because he wanted us to be adaptable to all kinds of situations.”

The seminarians all did volunteer work in poor communities, and one of them remembers Bergoglio telling them that “closeness to the poor is important for the formation of a priest’s heart.”

His mantra at the time was: “You’re going to learn from these people before you teach them anything,” the young Jesuits recall.

But when I asked these Jesuits what they learned from Bergoglio about being a good leader, the first memory they shared wasn’t a memorable speech or policy initiative.

Instead, they recalled Bergoglio doing the laundry.

Bergoglio used to stress that the seminarians were a family, and each person had to do his share of the chores to support the other family members.

Even though Bergoglio was their superior and carried a heavy administrative and teaching load, he also chipped in, taking the role of community laundry man.

Any seminarians awake at 5:30 in the morning could find him down in the basement, pitching bales of laundry into balky, 1980s-style industrial washing machines.

Why has that image stuck with them for more than three decades?

I suspect it’s because Bergoglio was embodying three vital leadership principles that every good parent instinctively understands, but that too many managers and executives forget.

Don’t tell us you value us, show us.

Many managers talk about respect, but treat team members more like tools than human beings. If you want to win the confidence and trust of your team, demonstrate in deeds that you value them.

Your corporate headquarters may not have a laundry machine, but I’m sure you can come up with some other way to demonstrate your concern for the team.

Don’t ask us to make sacrifices that you are unwilling to make.

The economic environment is harsh for organizations of all sorts. In order to survive, managers often ask sacrifices of their team members, whether it's shouldering a larger proportion of health insurance costs, working longer hours, or forgoing raises.

Most workers can accept these realities, except when managers exempt themselves from the sacrifices they ask of others. Too many chief executives, for example, get rewarded with lavish bonus increases even while slashing staff and cutting benefit packages for subordinates.

They ought to show some Bergoglio-style leadership. If they are going to ask the team to make sacrifices or take on extra chores, they ought to demonstrate their own willingness to sacrifice alongside them.

Send the message that you’re here to serve us, not that we’re here to serve you.

Soon after his election, Pope Francis said that “authentic power is service,” a simple yet profound vision. Those seminarians who remember him doing the laundry at 5:30 in the morning saw that vision in action: He is here to take care of our needs.

Too often, managers send the opposite signal. They squeeze information and labor from subordinates, as juice from a lemon. But they show little interest in recognizing and developing the talent and potential of their teams, or in ensuring that their basic needs are met.

Granted, doing the laundry will remain a pretty tiresome task, and family members will continue to strew dirty clothing here and there, oblivious to how it later becomes clean.

But launderers can take at least a little solace that they are disseminating some important lessons about life and leadership, and in at least a few cases, those lessons will be remembered.

Chris Lowney is a former Jesuit seminarian and one-time managing director of JP Morgan & Co. He is author of “Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads.” The views expressed in this column belong to Lowney. 

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Argentina • Business • Catholic Church • Christianity • Ethics • Leaders • Pope Francis

soundoff (704 Responses)
  1. jeff6187

    I love this Pope. He is taking the scary, unforgiving, harsh face of Catholicism and turning it inside out, reminding the world that that's not God's plan but mans... that God values love, forgiveness, humility, charity, kindness over everything else. I believe that was made clear by some guy, I think his name was Jesus, at some sermon on a mount somewhere. But that messages wasn't as much fun as ego, malice, selfishness, greed, and power ... so man pretty much forgot about it. This Pope is making everyone take a good hard look at that, starting from within his own Church. I wish there was a Nobel Prize for Pope-ism.

    November 18, 2013 at 2:29 am |
    • saggyroy

      First a cute video of a cute little boy, then a disfigured guy. Those guys in the Vatican marketing department will be getting a large Christmas bonus this year!

      November 18, 2013 at 5:49 am |
    • Reality

      and the continued child abuse cover ups. Yep, children worldwide suffering from abuse, some mentally.

      How has this pope set the example on how to help those abused? Zero. just deflect and pretend 'humble'.\.

      The pope and his crew are con men

      November 18, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • JJ

      "face of Catholicism", yes you at least got that right. He's just trying to change everyone's perception of the pedophile infested cult. He's just the lipstick on the pig and people like yourself are eating it up exactly as planned. Frank can go out, kiss a few babies, hug a man with a skin disease and even say atheists can go to heaven and you all just lap it up. That's how they've stayed in power for 2000 years.

      Priests of some parish can rape hundreds of children over a few years but as long as they put on a front down at the soup kitchen it's all forgiven and even forgotten. Disgusting.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  2. Ken Margo

    Then, go right ahead, brave believers in bull and bologna, tell us if you care to, who was this individual others tried to describe for all the world?

    November 18, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  3. pbernasc

    wow A real Christian for Pope ... how long till Rome red tape shoots him?

    November 18, 2013 at 1:08 am |
    • Reality

      he's a man as any other man. Oops, except other good men would set the example on helping children abused by their organization.

      He's a con man.

      November 18, 2013 at 7:36 am |
  4. rad666

    He is still hiding the dirty laundry.

    November 17, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
  5. Reality # 2

    Only for the newbies:

    All well and good, but it does not change the fact that Francis I suffers from a severe case of the Three B Syndrome i.e. Bred, Born and Brainwashed in the historical and theological flaws of Christianity !!

    Added details available upon written request

    November 17, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
  6. Bill

    Pope Francis is as close to a "normal man" as you will find in any church leadership position. Too often, people in his position are full of themselves with power.

    November 17, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Sire Bill...

      This Pope is just an abnormally normal humanoid... A snippets worth of snapshots and videos all promoting one's self within the television arenas made for psychologically herding those blinded by science and dumbfounded in one's societal constraints... It's 420 somewhere isn't it..?

      November 17, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  7. Spazzo

    Vatican murdered Roberto Calvi because he knew so many of Vatican's dirty secrets.

    November 17, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
    • Akira

      Pope JP I, also, from what I hear.

      November 17, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
      • I C

        thanks for giving that virus what 4 akira. new i could count on ur sincerity

        Then, go right ahead, brave believers in bull and bologna, tell us if you care to, who was this individual others tried to describe for all the world?

        November 18, 2013 at 2:57 am |
  8. Ron Marek

    Talk the talk and walk the walk. Thank you Pope Francis.

    November 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • tony

      Nice man being Pope. Doesn't change the job specification though. Convert, convert, convert. . . . .

      November 17, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
      • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

        Two choices – would you prefer the Church as it is, or if it was more compassionate? BTW, there's not a third choice.

        November 17, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
        • tony

          Third choice – sued for fraudulent product claims.

          November 17, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
        • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

          Well, we both know that's not going to happen. So, if you have to choose between the two, which is it?

          November 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
        • tony

          I'm not interested in any choices that religion offers.

          But I think an "obtaining money by false pretenses" lawsuit is getting closer every day. I've seen many a church billboard that would qualify legally.

          November 17, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • Mr. Duckworth

      Interesting Pope for sure – but BTW: None of his core beliefs differ AT ALL from the two previous Popes, it's just that his communication style is more focused on everyone's common ground – the other Popes had the same beliefs, it just that they were more outspoken on the controversial issues – so the media did not warm to them as much. But nothing of substance is really any different. Just shows you how shallow the media and secular culture is – they react more to personalities as opposed to principles and ethics. The Truth is straight and is sometimes hard to take if your on the wrong side- but we all need to hear it.

      November 17, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
      • tony

        Truth is verite' or similar in many languages. I.e something that can be verified.

        Got any concrete, verifiable evidence for what you call truth?

        November 17, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
        • lol??

          Jimmy Hoffa has not risen from the dead. Rumours about concrete abound.

          November 18, 2013 at 6:12 am |
      • Sara

        Although I agree with you that there is now difference in views between these popes, I think your assessment of the shallowness of the secular interest is lacking. First, the same misunderstandings exist among Catholics, many of whom are more than happy to believe that the church suddenly agrees with their own views. Second, the shallow media presentation is largely responsible for the poor understanding of most non-Catholics. The details of Catholic beliefs are really not of much interest to most non-Catholics, so they can hardly be expected to do in depth investigations on their own with so many other more pressing news items. All most people have on which to base an opinion is this Catholic propaganda and weak media stories.

        November 18, 2013 at 7:47 am |
        • lol??

          Well the RCC is the original gubmint CHURCH.

          Jhn 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

          And the equal rights progressive crowd was big on the Kennedy Camelot clan.

          November 18, 2013 at 7:54 am |
        • lol??

          Heroes in mythology were daemons who people thought were the bridge between God and man. Some kings thought they would turn into these beings when they died.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • lol??

      And do the dishes. Mom is adamant 'bout that.

      November 18, 2013 at 6:07 am |
  9. The Proof

    My niece once asked, which was correct - (1) when a Christian dies, they go to heaven right away or (2) do they stay in the grave until Jesus returns to earth? Many people believe their loved ones, who have died, are in Heaven now. But, the Bible says, "when Christ returns, the dead in Christ shall rise and meet the Lord in the air, and so shall they ever be with the Lord." My answer to her was, "I don't really know which is correct. But, what I believe has nothing to do with how it will happen. My belief will not change the plan." This is my message that I would like to say to everyone who has posted here. Stop shouting at one another. Christians, believe what you are taught, and by faith, live as you believe you should. Non-believers, I don't agree with you, but that's all right. One of us is going to be right and what you and I believe will not alter what will be. May God bless and keep you is my prayer.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

      Do you mean they will join with Jesus spiritually or corporally?

      November 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      There are people who believe in universal salvation. But most Christians acknowledge that someone goes to hell every second or so, though to say specifically who might be going to hell is to be judgmental.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
      • tony

        "most christians think like I do" . . . . Ah the grandiousness of the self righteous.

        November 17, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Most Christians think like I do? Not likely.

          November 17, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
        • tony

          But that's what you just wrote. "most christians ackknowledge. . . "

          November 17, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
        • Akira

          Tony , Tom wasn't talking about himself...

          November 17, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • k9zgirl

      Thank you.

      November 18, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • Crom

      You sound like Doris Day singing "Que sera, sera".
      Your ignorance-dominated fatalism is duly noted and appropriately ignored for the mealy-mouthed cowardly mumblings they are.

      November 18, 2013 at 7:20 am |
      • The Truth

        Thank you for your honest, and most intellectually written reply, to my posting. You have made my day! I hope you have a good one too.

        November 18, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Sara

      "One of us is going to be right and what you and I believe will not alter what will be. May God bless and keep you is my prayer."

      If you are right, that may be the case. However if any of a large number of other theories is right, what we believe and do may have a very big impact on the future, so your advice is really only relevant to the small number who already agree with you. This sin't even the majority of Christians, as most would argue that what one believes has an impact on what happens to at least that one individual after death.

      November 18, 2013 at 7:30 am |
  10. vmm11

    I think Lowney brings it down to the point why so many people seem to love Pope Francis. He gives people the impression that he is no better than the rest of us. He certainly lives up to the golden rule of treat people the way you wanna be treated. His style might be new but that is what people like: A pope they can relate to.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • tony

      Now if only there was a god we could say the same of.

      Except there are thousands of different religions each thinking the one true god is the way they want him to be. Which can't be possible, of course.

      November 17, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
  11. Gawd

    Grow up people. There are no talking snakes, magical ribs, or invisible cloud fairies. That is not how things work.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Mr. Duckworth

      How foolish – people like you and Maher and Dawkins just take bible readings out of context, and try to read all bible writings as literal – it's such a foolish, dum argument and it proves nothing. The bible is not a book to be read one way, but rather a library of books, each to be read differently depending on if it is: historical account, or parables, or narrative, or symbolism or poetry or songs. I know that's kind of deep for you to grasp – but work on it, you can do it, son. Please get educated.

      November 17, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
      • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

        So, is the Old Testament true?

        November 17, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          When it is not historical fact it is allegory. When it is not allegory it is divinely inspired fiction. I wish people would swallow my writing like they do the bible. No peer review. Amazing.

          November 17, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
      • tony

        The bible was written to spread the word of god, as requested by God.

        So god splits up the universal language into thousands at the tower of Babel, then only issues the 10 commandments AFTERWARDS, so that just the Jews get to read and understand them. . . .

        November 17, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
        • lol??

          Alas, Cain was a vegee before any writin'. He must not have been much on braggin' about his encounters with God.

          November 18, 2013 at 5:56 am |
  12. Penn Jillette

    If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

      Wow – that's well put.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • lol??

      Science makes its most important contributions for war efforts. Enjoy yer Death Idol.

      November 18, 2013 at 5:52 am |
      • Crom

        Is there a war going on? Oh, yeah, the war on the poor. All it takes is bullying thugs to oppress the poor, not technology.

        November 18, 2013 at 7:45 am |
        • lol??

          LBJ's War on Poverty sure got the man out of his castle. The NEW MAN turned out to be the hollow man in washington.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  13. Dan

    Is it make-believe day again?

    November 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

      Yes it is – make believe you can converse without the nonsense.

      November 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  14. Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss and Massimo Pigliucci discuss The Limits Of Science

    This is a very enlightening video. The conversation also includes knowledge and consensus.

    Published on Nov 5, 2013

    00:00 Introduction
    07:07 Limits of Science
    19:40 God & the Supernatural
    31:20 Science & Morality
    50:11 Something out of Nothing
    1:03:42 The Value of Philosophy
    1:20:59 Cognitive Limits
    1:35:43 Questions:
    – 1:35:56 Science & Politics
    – 1:43:33 The Status of Economics
    – 1:48:17 Does Consciousness Exist?


    November 17, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • Dana


      November 17, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
      • saggyroy

        I love Bill Nye. This is very well put. Thanks!

        November 18, 2013 at 5:43 am |
    • Ben Franklin

      The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • lol??

      Gang of Four, a cover band that toured with Culture Club.

      November 18, 2013 at 5:48 am |
    • Science Works

      Dawrin's Living Lab for evolution. by the way good vids above and below.

      Published on Sep 12, 2013

      See the full behind-the-scenes experience: http://goo.gl/oau0g5

      In partnership with the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park, The Charles Darwin Foundation, and Catlin Seaview Survey, we traveled to the archipelago to collect 360-degree Street View imagery.

      Produced by B-Reel and Google


      November 18, 2013 at 6:00 am |
      • lol??

        Darwin was into close relatives.

        November 18, 2013 at 6:19 am |
    • Science Works

      Published on Sep 12, 2013

      See the full behind-the-scenes experience: http://goo.gl/oau0g5

      In partnership with the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park, The Charles Darwin Foundation, and Catlin Seaview Survey, we traveled to the archipelago to collect 360-degree Street View imagery.

      Produced by B-Reel and Google


      November 18, 2013 at 6:02 am |
  15. Mojo Jo


    Existence: Unquestioned

    Santa Clause
    Easter Bunny
    Tooth Fairy

    Existence: Questionable

    November 17, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • Tweedlederp

      Don't forget phlogiston. It's very important.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  16. Lainie11

    Francis is nothing about God, but everything about modernism. He has created a new church that isn't Catholic at all. He's a joke.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

      He's all about love thy neighbor, but apparently you are not.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
      • Lainie11

        The first three Commandments pertain to God; the second seven tell believers how to live. God comes first, people second.

        November 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
        • And how close....

          ....do you follow the commandments? I'll wager Francis follows them all, too.

          Get over your judge mental self. He doesn't judge, which already makes him better than you.

          You are the joke.

          November 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
        • The Gospel of Mark

          One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

          “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

          “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

          November 17, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
        • Observer


          Talk about VANITY, 40% of the Ten Commandments are about "How to Worship ME".

          November 17, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
      • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

        Spoken like a true conservative. The real picture is that harm, in the form of hom ophobia, pedophi lia, misog yny, etc., are destroying the Church, and there's nothing in your list of commandments which covers that. But don't forget, about all the other other commandments Jesus said to love God and love thy neighbor.

        November 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • mos

      His new church is more like the church of Jesus.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
      • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

        Agree. And I think the Church is getting ready to go through some internal purging; those who want a compassionate Church vs. those who want the same ole same ole. This will be interesting to watch.

        November 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
        • Mr. Duckworth

          Folks, understand something: No core beliefs in the Catholic Church have changed or are changing. The Pope is basically just like an Umpire in a Baseball game – he keeps the game going and indicates what's in play or not, by the written rule book – but does not change the rules of the game – that's set. This Pope is very personable and open and verbally warm and communicative – but he does not have the Authority to change anything. Truth is truth and does not change with fashion – sorry.

          November 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
        • tony

          So all those "crying" and "bleeding" statues are real?

          November 17, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
        • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

          Of course it will change. Look at it's history; it's changed in the past and it will change again. Empty coffers have a way of making people "see the light." Also, still waiting for your answer on whether you believe the Old Testament is historically true.

          November 17, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
  17. Hahaha!

    And the Pope keeps up his laundering duties, this time with the Vatican Bank.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  18. OMG

    "You too can rise up from the depths of the abyss of death and self-destruction."

    You sound so silly. What makes you think you are so superior to the Pope that you feel you're qualified to judge him and give advice?

    November 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Tweedlederp

      Messiah complex. Loves to make grand, melodramatic pronouncements to feel self-important. Arrogant and selfish.
      Does that sound more like what's going on? Many religious people are like that.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Got 2 b an athie

      November 17, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
      • Akira

        You've got to be illiterate.
        And, not Ken Margo.
        He's literate.

        November 17, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • Crom

      Everyone is free to judge anyone and anything however they like. This guy has no magic anything. No god will back him up on anything he says because there are no gods and nothing magical anywhere. No such thing as magic is real.
      It's time for you to sober up and quit reveling in your delusions. Do you need a daddy-figure? Then admit it.

      November 18, 2013 at 7:51 am |
  19. Douglas

    Thank you Pope Francis for setting an example that sinners can look to for guidance.

    You too can rise from the depths of the abyss of death and self-destruction.

    The time is drawing near when people will have to make a critical decision.

    Follow the narrow road to salvation and make sure your lamp has oil when the King of Kings returns in glory.

    November 17, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • tony

      Yet another "the world wil be eding shortly – repent or perish" sect.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
      • OMG

        He even is telling the Pope what to do! What's loon!

        Grandpa here should go back to yelling at kids to get off his lawn. He sounds 85.

        November 17, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Tweedlederp

      I'm going to make sure every person named Douglas is probed by Jesus aliens. Splinters in uncomfortable places.
      Think about it and repent of your arrogant pride.

      November 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
      • OMG

        Thank you!

        November 17, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.