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. Air max 2013 black Friday deals

    Which Gasoline Corporations Usually do not Use Ethanolthe real problem with "global warming" hysteria has caused big issues in other spots over the boards and perhaps performs into why we have been in Iraq!back again during the eighties the global warming lunatics released their own individual doctrine which went similar to this. we don't must have proof as a way to take motion to forestall some thing north face thanksgiving sale bad from occurring. just something which has been closely suppress

    November 27, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
  2. Riverliffey

    One is tempted to use laundry duty as a metaphor for the priestly task of cleansing the soiled soul, &c, &c.but it is at the same time more mundane and more exalted than that.
    Every chore is holy, for as the old Protestant hymn says, "Work, for the night is coming."
    "Love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than words," said St. Ignatius Loyloa, founder of the Jesuits.
    The future Pope was just following orders.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • Donna

      Following orders yes he did that, but he did it with love. Service and love equals humility. We strive to do the same.

      December 3, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  3. lol??

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Don't know about THAT, Not Good, but here are the facts;
    "Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."

    When a woman has an abortion she commits suicide by cuttin' off her own head when she tells the father of the child to take a hike. She then steals the inheritance and blows in on drugs or worse, gives it to Bloom's educratists and perpetuates antichrist doctrines. This is NOT a way for a culture to be blessed.

    November 24, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • midwest rail

      " She then steals the inheritance and blows in on drugs or worse, ,,,"
      Arrogant presumption and delusional idiocy in one phrase – well done.

      November 24, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  4. dragonfire0477

    I think this man is EXACTLY the kind of pope the church needed at this point in it's existence. Finally, a man who appears to actually live by what the bible says, as opposed to what the hard-liners want it to say.

    November 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      I must have missed his announcement of turning over all pedophile priests and their criminal protectors to civilian authorities. He's a criminal until proven otherwise.

      November 21, 2013 at 8:23 am |
      • farsight001

        Really? Did you honestly just say that he's guilty until proven innocent? When did that change? Since when is it no longer innocent until proven guilty?

        November 22, 2013 at 12:02 am |
      • lee

        @hotAirAce, more like 'hot head full of air' .
        The principle is: "everybody is INNOCENT until proven otherwise" .
        Don't make a fool of yourself and stop being an air head.

        November 29, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  5. Not Good

    The RCC still does not accept medical science

    Catholic Hospital Reprimands Doctor for Mere Mention of Abortion –

    See more at: http://thecontributor.com/catholic-hospital-dispute-over-what-doctor-can-do-%E2%80%93-and-say#sthash.hBb3Me0y.dpuf

    November 19, 2013 at 4:06 am |
    • HotAirAce

      70+% of all abortions in the USA are had by god believers. Why is that!

      November 21, 2013 at 8:25 am |
      • UrbanPhoenix

        Because, I imagine, that being a "god believer" doesn't magically deliver you from the limitations of your humanity. But I could be wrong. What do you think?

        November 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • B Schmitt

      Catholics believe abortion is wrong, and that the unborn has the right to live. The unborn has a heartbeat, a brain, and is fully alive in the mother's womb. Being unwanted should does not justify ending a life. And Catholics are founders of many hospitals, and there are many many doctors and scientist who are Catholics (RCC).

      November 22, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
      • Fred Evil

        Then why does god cause so many miscarriages, and are you planning on holding her accountable?

        December 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
        • Bruce Wayne

          You seem like the "When in doubt, blame God...because it's easy and I don't understand" type

          December 4, 2013 at 12:51 am |
  6. Reality # 2

    Human evolution continues. One result, atheism and the reduction of religious influence on our lives.

    November 19, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • digitalclips

      With all due respect, Atheism isn't a 'result'. It really isn't anything if you think about it. It is the natural state of being. 'Belief' or 'Faith' is superimposed mythological belief. Everyone is born an atheist until some one brainwashes them and they 'become' something else, such a s Muslim or a Christian, for example. If that brainwashing never took place they would remain as they were all along, untainted by myths. So to label that 'normal state' with a label such as 'atheist', that then gets used as an epithet by the brain washed, seems pretty silly really.

      November 23, 2013 at 9:16 am |
      • Peter J. Andros

        Starting a rant with "With all due respect..." is a dead give-a-way that you don't have any.

        November 27, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
      • Dan

        In other words, it is getting harder to brain-wash people since we know a lot more today than we did when the myths were written down in the bible.

        December 3, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      reality&2 sayz from previous post,
      "...................So why do we really care................'
      "Wegodian", eh??
      BTW, yer scholar pals might have bwain damage.They are fearless like gud lil ol' psychopaths. They are havin' a rough time hearing the True shepherd so a PET scan should help rule out any physical pwoblems.

      November 26, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Still here after 500,000 years. Better ramp it up, Dahwin, Darlin'. Maybe pick a different fork in ye ol' family tree.

      November 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  7. Dr. Paul

    If supposedly perfect Christian god designed us and our world perfectly, why is doing laundry even necessary?

    Perhaps god favors bacteria over people!

    November 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Becky Bacteria doesn't feel a thing when she gives birth during her procreatin'.

      November 26, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  8. tony

    Real gods don't need church leaders of any kind. They can send rainbows to everyone at the drop of a storm, or toss out commandments at any handy rocky mountain top.

    November 18, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  9. ?

    The old Ratzinger when on laundry duty was doing money, pedophilia docu ments or stained altar boys underwear. Nice that Frankie moved out of the papal digs and is still probably helping with the chores.

    November 18, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  10. Science Works

    Time for the real world creationist./ID believers


    November 15, 2013
    NEW YORK — Fossils of two dinosaurs found in Montana and locked eternally in a fierce death match could fetch a potential record $9 million when they are sold in New York next week, the Bonhams auction house said on Thursday.

    November 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • tony

      Sounds like they appreciated at $3000 per year, according to the Creation Museum.

      November 18, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  11. Vince Heintz

    Thanks to Chris Lowney for his ongoing work in teaching people how the Jesuit way may serve as a model for all of us. Mr. Lowney has been teaching me things since 1981, when he was my English teacher. He has a 50 pound brain and a heart twice that size! Thanks, Mr. Lowney!

    November 18, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Moargus

      Sounds like Rob Ford, by weight and bombast anyway. Did he smoke crack too?

      November 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  12. NeoKat1

    God Bless you Pope Francis!! This world needs a spiritual leader like you!

    November 18, 2013 at 10:32 am |
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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.