Vatican City administrator lectures on work, modern businesses
Nolan Hines | Friday, November 3, 2023
Sr. Raffaella Petrini, the highest-ranking woman in the world’s smallest state, visited Notre Dame on Wednesday to deliver a lecture for the Nanovic Institute.
A native of Rome, Petrini holds a political science degree and a doctorate from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, where she taught welfare economics and sociology of economic processes. Since Pope Francis appointed her in 2021, the Franciscan nun has served as Secretary General of the Governorate of Vatican City State — a position which makes her the highest-ranking woman in the Holy See.
Following a brief introduction by Nanovic Institute director Clemens Sedmak and Fr. Austin Collins, vice president for mission engagement and church affairs, Petrini outlined the goals of her talk. It would focus on the value of human work under the lens of Catholic social teaching, examine how such a perspective might affect styles of leadership, analyze two styles of leadership and present the possibility of a third style of leadership — a self-titled “leadership of care” — as a response to the key social question.
The key social question, she said, was first broached by Pope Benedict XVI as “radically anthropological.” Petrini explained Catholic social teaching does not present technical solutions but “theologically inspired” and “socially realist” principles consistent with the evangelical vision. What these principles grapple with is that which has radically changed the social question in modern times: the technocratic paradigm.
“Certain technology and its development have become an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm that leads men to attempt to extract everything possible while frequently forgetting the concept of limits,” Petrini said. “The Pope cautioned us against adopting the notion of a human being with no limits … that exalts the concept of a subject gaining control over the other, their fellow man.”
An additional danger of the technocratic paradigm, Petrini said, is how it favors the quantitative over the qualitative, being wholly a “very limited, very reductive view.” What makes the qualitative so important is that it directly deals with the human essence and with human work as a whole, according to Petrini.
“Through work, man comes forward to nature, entrusted to him to respond to his fundamental needs,” Petrini said. “Through work, man achieves fulfillment as he realizes himself. In a sense, he becomes more of a human being in the world.”
Through this teaching, the secretary-general presented business as being humanly significant, ultimately making the workplace and organizations sites of communal growth in the world.
According to Catholic social teaching, modern businesses should go “from organizations that are primarily oriented towards efficiency and profit, competitiveness and individual gain, towards organizations that are essentially human-centered and sensitive to moral ethics, open to reciprocity and solidarity,” Petrini said.
Petrini added that the leader pursuing integral human development among his staff should aim to sustain the mission of his organization, instill hope and ensure integrity. She cited two current styles of management in organizations: the neo-managerial and the humanistic. While the neo-managerial focuses on the benefit of the shareholders and aseptic ideology detached from solidarity, the humanistic recognizes “business enterprise involves a wide range of values,” Petrini said. The element of human relations, from this view, has great motivational importance.
In this context, Petrini called for workplace leaders and managers to be “experts in humanity.” As demand for esteem, recognition and attention grows among the workforce, a need also grows for managers who are capable of both professional techniques and listening, caring and seeing the work of their collaborators. As such, soft skills become crucial in ensuring a holistic work approach. In short, the express purpose of this leadership model is to bring about “work for man, and not man for work.”
“Leaders can be more successful when they express their concerns and inquire about challenges directly,” Petrini said. “When they are open to dialogue and listen to their employees’ responses, it often brings out the best in their collaborators. People come to work with a lot of pain. Addressing that can make a real difference in fostering peaceful bliss in this regard.”
She also spoke about “the innate caring capacity” of women in the decision-making process, with a particular sensitivity to people’s feelings. This sensitivity, she said, compliments management in “promoting a climate of serenity and mutual respect” vital in the workplace. With this in mind, Petrini spoke highly of Pope Francis’ efforts to bring women into more positions of authority, noting her own lofty appointment. It is the Holy Father’s urging, she said, for organizations to follow this example.
Petrini ended her lecture with a plea: For leaders to pursue effective outcomes through a human-centered management that focuses on the needs of the person, ending the rigid separation between the private and the professional spheres.
“It is only in this that we might seek to grow as persons and professionals alike, consistent with work as an integral part of human existence,” she said.