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. lolita from rhode island

    Whitney H. People need someone to look up to, I never found anyone who'd fulfill my needs.

    November 18, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • tony

      google "tall"

      November 18, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  2. jjh

    Religious or not, I thought it was a great article on leadership.

    November 18, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Reality

      you mean on the 'con'.. Market 'humble',, the latest vatican escape from crimes against children world-wide.

      A great leader for cons.

      November 18, 2013 at 10:00 am |
      • MC

        Shove a sock in it, you gaseous half-wit.

        November 18, 2013 at 10:34 am |
        • Reality

          I know the truth about this organization – FIRST hand

          November 18, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  3. Woody

    The Pope like all other humans is a human mammal with a robe on . When I was an altar boy I too was but a mammal with a robe on . The Popes job is like any other salesman's job . He has the Catholic religion to sell to the public because the church like anyplace else needs money to survive . No the Pope can not get you to heaven and no giving money will not get you to heaven . We are but mammals on a planet and when we die our bodies return to the earth and our spirit stays alive within the memories of people and the things we do for people . There is no magic to it . And the catholic church is very wealthy and the great thing for the pope and priest is all of their travel , clothing , housing , is not provided by any god . It is all provided by you ! Each time you donate to the church you are giving people like the pope money to go to places all over the world . Instead of you getting to go . We are but mammals on a planet and the church is but a business that has found a way to sell something invisible . Snake oil salesmen became priest . The Roman soldier today is but a wolf in sheep clothing .

    November 18, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Reality

      they couldn't have gotten filthy rich if they didn't take a piece of the donations to feed the poor, for themselves.

      Meanwhile, starving children died. As they do today as this wealth organization continues its con and denying children

      November 18, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • ed dugan

      Right, the pope is just a mammal like you and me. Only he happens to be full of sh** and helps cover up pedophiles. If you want a picture of coruption just look him up.

      November 18, 2013 at 10:13 am |
      • MC

        I looked him up, half-wit, and there is zero evidence he has done any such thing.

        November 18, 2013 at 10:35 am |
      • Joe

        Spoken like a true American: "GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT BY A COURT OF LAW"!

        November 18, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  4. Erik


    November 18, 2013 at 9:37 am |


      November 18, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  5. Science Assistant

    from Science News Daily:

    Dogs Likely Originated in Europe More Than 18,000 Years Ago, Biologists Report

    Nov. 14, 2013 — Wolves likely were domesticated by European hunter-gatherers more than 18,000 years ago and gradually evolved into dogs that became household pets, UCLA life scientists report.

    "We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them," said Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in UCLA's College of Letters and Science and senior author of the research. "This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found."

    The UCLA researchers' genetic analysis is published Nov. 15 in the journal Science and featured on the journal's cover.

    Read more at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131114142134.htm

    November 18, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  6. Ted

    "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.”

    –That's a prime example of a "servant leader"

    November 18, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • Reality

      talk about delusion..

      No doubt there are better men than these con men. 'Poor'? Give me a break. Sell the vatican wealth and change it!!

      Just a con this pope and religion are.

      November 18, 2013 at 9:38 am |
      • MC

        Give it a rest, you sad little half-wit.

        November 18, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  7. lol??

    Sara sayz,
    "....................................Atheism has nothing to do with ethics any more than a-unicornism does...............'

    And if you bend over they'll come runnin', too.

    November 18, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Crom

      You really don't get it, do you?

      All we share is a lack of any theism in our brains. Our values are cultural.

      Every culture has different values, just like every family, religion, political system, legal system, or other ideology carries it's own set of assumed values to be taken piecemeal by every individual as they like.

      You use moral relativism in everything you do, including your religion.
      There are no intrinsic moral values in anything or anyone. All we have are animal instincts and behavior patterns.

      If you are looking for evil types of atheist, go after the Ayn Rand followers. They are the most evil and selfish and greedy.
      Why not go after greedy people? Because you worship money too, right?

      November 18, 2013 at 9:25 am |
      • Sara

        TheFalun Gong people offer a rellgious version of this type of greed based ethic. If you read their fundamental religious text Li Hongzhi tells the followers that helping others is essentially immoral. They've moderated this stance since as it sounds so bad, but since the original book is so holy that even taking notes in it and underlining is immoral the position is definitive.

        November 18, 2013 at 9:30 am |
        • Crom

          You've never studied the Mormon beliefs? Scientology? The Tea Party and the GOP?
          There are plenty of examples of general greed-oriented religion, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
          The only difference is in who is profiting the most by it. There are different types of greed, not just financial, too.
          Branch Davidians were all about giving everything, even their children to be raped, to the guy pretending to be Jesus.
          His greed was pretty depraved, but it defined much of what he did and said.
          Greed for power, control, influence, adulation, etc. tend to define the failings of every religious person as they sublimate their primate instincts behind a mask of delusion.

          November 18, 2013 at 9:55 am |
        • Crom

          And what of "prosperity gospel"? Or charities that take over 90 percent of all the money coming in to line their own pockets?
          Southern Baptists are greedy for slave labor, a world-wide phenomenon amongst the 1 percenters.
          Catholics are greedy for victims, money, power, sex, etc. Every Protestant sect is the same.
          Greed is one thing. Having an ideology based upon schizophrenic sociopathic beliefs is another.
          Both need to be abolished. Guess which one goes first?

          November 18, 2013 at 10:00 am |
        • Sara

          Once again Crom, I've no idea what you're on about. Mormonism was founded by a con artist, but its ethics are not inherently greed based. Scientology is more so. But none of this is relevant to the fact that I picked what I believe is the best example of a greed based religious ethic. I suspect if you knew anything about falun gong you ming understand the choice of example.

          November 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
      • lol??

        "....................Our values are cultural....................."
        Yeah, like the psychobabble from the Frankfurt School a la Freud whereby prisoners in the penal system get their rehab from Bubba and the psychopaths magically morph into Christians. Got it!!

        November 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  8. lol??

    Oh, oooohhh. Mob science.

    November 18, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  9. for the dummies


    November 18, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  10. for the dummies


    November 18, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  11. for the dummies


    November 18, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  12. for the dummies


    November 18, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  13. for the dummies


    November 18, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  14. lol??

    What is it with the evolutionists' obsession with unicorns?? Don't they see the point??

    November 18, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Where was non-belief when...

      Parents must've ruined that part of childhood for them. Most are deeply obsessed and attached to things like Santa Claus or the Easter bunny.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
      • lol??

        Hugh Huffner didn't help the bunny obsession, either.

        November 18, 2013 at 8:36 am |
        • Jason

          See, THIS is why we need a "like" button on here . . .

          November 18, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Gorsh

      It is amusing. I mean, they are cool to look at when I go to the zoo, but beyond that, I don't see the attraction.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:32 am |
      • Crom

        Are you a Rino?

        November 18, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  15. Honey Badger Don't Care

    Skepticon 6 in Srpingfield, MO was a blast. Hope that some of you were able to make it.

    November 18, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "Skepticon" sounds like an evil Transformer – and one that changes into 6 different forms no less!

      November 18, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Sara

      LOL, I almost wish we had freaky things like Creationist museums here to warrant such a conference.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:30 am |
      • lol??

        You throwin' a freaky, erie theory in the lake?? Lake Erie might object. "Sides it sounds eerie.

        November 18, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Gorsh

      Skeptics are the most annoying of people. Stripped down to the basics, they call themselves skeptical, but are generally only skeptical of theories and beliefs that do not fit in their very narrow reductionist belief system. Any theory that counters a non-reductionist belief is quickly accepted.

      So the term skeptic is highly inaccurate and misleading. The term Reductionist is the accurate term for 95% of so called skeptics.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
      • lol??

        Yeah, like reducing life down to bacteria that has to naturally mutate to survive!!

        November 18, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  16. Peick

    CNN, what does "balky" mean? Maybe you meant bulky?

    November 18, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Don't do ridiculous...
      Is Balki, not "balky"
      Now we do the dance of joy!

      November 18, 2013 at 8:22 am |
      • smell this

        HA! Hopefully others "got it". Very funny.

        November 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • WDS

      "Balky" means "difficult to get working". In this case the washing machines were old and didn't work very well.

      November 18, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  17. Simeon

    5 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the [a]mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,

    3 “[b]Blessed are the [c]poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

    5 “Blessed are the [d]gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

    6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

    7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

    8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

    9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

    10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    November 18, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • Reality

      leaves the pope, bishops and cardinals out

      November 18, 2013 at 9:50 am |
      • CosmicC

        Based on what I've read about this pope, I think he'd be the first to agree with you. He's either going to lead the catholic church in the right direction or there will be another great schism. I've voting for the second for a a couple of reasons; first, too many people derive their personal power from the status quo, second, it would make great theater.

        November 18, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  18. Where was non-belief when...

    earthquakes strike? Where was non-belief when war breaks out? Where was non-belief when famine happens? Where was non-belief when a baby or child does? That's right. Non-belief is a cruel vicious god that does not care about us. Non-belief does not exist.

    November 18, 2013 at 7:59 am |
    • Where was non-belief when...


      November 18, 2013 at 7:59 am |
    • Sara

      What do you mean by "non-belief"? Everyone has non-belief in most imaginable things. Christians normally have non-belief in Buddhism and Daoists non-belief in Islam and almost all of us non-belief in unicorns.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:07 am |
      • Where was non-belief when...

        Non-belief(atheism) is a cruel and vicious god that does not care about us humans. Thus this god does not exist.

        November 18, 2013 at 8:18 am |
        • Sara

          Atheism isn't a system of ethics, it is just a lack of belief in gods. If you take some time to talk to atheists you'll find they almost always have a set of ethics that is no encompassed in the simple term "atheism". Some atheists are humanists, some utilitarians, Buddhists or utilitarians. Atheism has nothing to do with ethics any more than a-unicornism does. If you want to compare ethical systems don't even bring atheism into the equation; it is not an ethic. You want to discus Christianity morality vs. utilitarianism or Islam vs. atheistic Buddhism or Unitariansism.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:25 am |
        • Where was non-belief when...

          Non-belief allows people to die thus I cannot believe in non-belief.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:26 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Does your god grant you immortality?
          Remember, "in the end, there can be only one..."
          (cue Queen music)

          November 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
        • Where was non-belief when...

          Does non-belief save a dying child? Nope. Your god is unloving and does not care about us humans thus it's illogical to believe in non-belief.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:34 am |
      • lol??

        Your unicorn problem is the result of fairy tales. wiki,
        "..........................Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of the unicorn,........................"

        You a naturalist??

        November 18, 2013 at 8:20 am |
        • Gorsh

          The unicorn analogy used by so many atheists is truly apt. They often laugh and make such silly comparisons to belief in unicorns, but there is a problem.

          You are 100% correct the Romans wrote about unicorns as real animals. Large, hairless beasts with a single large central horn. They were known to live in India and Africa.

          We call them rhinoceroses nowadays....

          November 18, 2013 at 8:26 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          I'm afraid not, sir.
          In the 5th century BCE, a Greek physician named Ctsesias described the Unicorn:
          "the body is white, the head is dark red, the eyes dark blue; the base of the horn is white, the upper part crimson, the middle section black. He refers to the animal as the wild ass of India, capable of outrunning the common ass, the horse or stag."
          During the 1st century CE, Pliny descriped Unicorn's as having a horse body, stag head, elephantine feet a boar's tail and a 3-foot black horn.
          A couple of hundred years later, there is a passage in Physiologus that says the Unicorn is "a small animal, like a kid, but exceedingly fierce, with one horn in the middle of the head; and no hunter is able to capture him ... he has a beard and the cloven hooves of a goat."

          The "Rhino" thing is straight up apologetic rationalizing.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:38 am |
        • lol??

          Shirley the evolutionist understands extinction.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:48 am |
        • Gorsh

          Doc-know any animal with one central horn and feet like an elephant? Do you even know what a boar's tail looks like? (very much like a Rhino tail)

          As for size discrepancies, of course the Greeks were describing the goat sized Javan rhino, while the Romans were generally talking about the African.

          November 18, 2013 at 9:00 am |
        • bacbik

          Bats in Bible are birds. Box of rocks has more sense.

          November 18, 2013 at 9:15 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Ever see a bearded, cloven hooved Rhino with a multi-hued horn?

          November 18, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "Non-belief" as you put it, is at the forefront of every major disaster in the form of secular relief organizations like, Doctors Without Borders, The Red Cross, The BIll and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kiva, United Nation's Children's Fund, Amnesty International, Oxfam, The Mercy Corps, The Atheist Centre for India, EARTHWARD Inc, Fellowship of Freethought, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Atheists Helping the Homeless, American Humanist Association, Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE), Humanist Insti/tute for Development Cooperation,Secular Center USA etc.
      Faith in miracles, divinity, resurrections, and other fantastical flourishes isn't required to live a life of pacifism, charity and humility.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:19 am |
      • Where was non-belief when...

        Non-belief does not exist since people die. Your god does not care about. Non-belief is a murderous and cruel god.

        November 18, 2013 at 8:22 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Perhaps you should consider attending a local ESL course, or a primer is basic logic.
          If you're going to prosthelytize, being coherent would help you out.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:25 am |
        • Sara

          Doc, I've got to agree. Unfortunately this person isn't really coherent enough to debate. I can't tell if it's an ESL issue or just sloppy logic. If it is a language issue I can work with that, but logic this inconsistent and sloppy leaves you with no actual positions to address.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:27 am |
        • Where was non-belief when...

          Your god(non-belief) kills people and does not save people. Thus I cannot believe in your murderous, vicious, and unloving god.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:29 am |
        • mique

          If only I could possibly make any sense of what you are saying, we might be able to have a reasonable conversation.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:30 am |
        • Sara

          Actually, I'm starting to wonder if these posts are being generated by some sort of bot with a few grammatical structures and 100 or so words. If just keeps saying the same things in slightly different ways without actually responding or increasing content.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:32 am |
        • Crom

          They are brain-locked into trying to hit back with the same sort of complaint, yet utterly fail because atheism isn't a system of anything, and so sound like a child repeating the same thing over and over, blind and deaf to anything but the glaring problem of worshipping a disgusting and vicious idiot god and hating disgusting and vicious things. They hate their god, I would guess.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:38 am |
        • Where was non-belief when...

          Save your non-belief save a dying child? I rest my case. You hate your god.

          November 18, 2013 at 8:40 am |
        • Crom

          Medical science is the only thing that has a chance of saving a dying child.
          Your disgusting evil god is nowhere to be seen, fortunately no matter what you think the voices in your head are telling you.

          November 18, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • humtake

      Non-belief is in the same place as belief is...standing on the sidelines while bad things happen to some good people. Regardless if it is because of an intelligent being or not...it still happens which means whatever way you put it, both belief systems have the same result.

      November 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
      • lol??

        Goood people??

        Mar 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

        Death is an appointment. 'Sides you'll get a new body in the resurrection.

        November 18, 2013 at 8:56 am |
        • Reality # 2

          Some historical reviews of the NT passages conclude that Mark 10:18 was not uttered by the historic Jesus (e.g. Professor JD Crossan in his book, The Historical Jesus. Others reviews conclude that said passage is authentic (e.g. Professor Gerd Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years.

          But consider the following:

          JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

          Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

          Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

          Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

          Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah/Argentine white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

          So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?

          November 18, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  19. Reality

    money laundering? Recently in Italy and in the late 80's in the USA. Makes this pope perfect.

    let's not forget his continued child abuse cover ups.

    November 18, 2013 at 7:32 am |
  20. lol??

    C'mon people. If I wanted videos I'd talk on my cell phone.

    November 18, 2013 at 6:25 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
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.