Business as a Calling, The Calling of Business

The fifth International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao, Spain July 15-18, 2003 If we are to look to the deeper causes of the recent revelations of corporate corruption, we must look to how the businessperson constructs as well as fails to construct meaningful work. As Denis de Rougement…

The fifth International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao, Spain July 15-18, 2003

If we are to look to the deeper causes of the recent revelations of corporate corruption, we must look to how the businessperson constructs as well as fails to construct meaningful work. As Denis de Rougement once wrote, “The great social and cultural maladies of the modern age all have this one common characteristic: they deny personal vocation.” This denial of vocation, which ultimately denies meaningful work, creates what the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes called one of the greatest errors of our age, a “split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives.” This divided life represses any reflection on the spiritual and moral purpose of one’s gifts, abilities, and motivations at work, leaving one with few resources to integrate one’s deepest beliefs with day-to-day life. Absent this reflection, even people with excellent professional or technical educations can find themselves driven by an ethic of self-interest that ignores the meaningful and rich concept of vocation and focuses solely on the limited and ultimately meaningless concept of career.

It was on the importance of understanding calling and vocation that this past summer the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought organized and co-sponsored, with Loyola University of Chicago and the Universidad de Deusto, the Fifth International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education. The symposium was funded through the University of St. Thomas’ Career to Calling grant from Lilly Endowment.

Past symposia have been held in Los Angeles; Antwerp, Belgium; Goa, India; and Puebla, Mexico. The core purpose of this series is to enhance the Catholic character of business schools by examining the interdisciplinary relationships of Catholic social thought, management practice, and theory. This is achieved by providing a forum for discussion so as to increase research in the area of Catholic social thought and management, which is currently underdeveloped. This research serves as a basis for better understanding the relationship between faith and economic life, which in turn develops curricula materials that better integrate Catholic social thought and business. As a cultural institution, a Catholic university not only is about training students in the best techniques of their trade, but more profoundly, it is about forming students in a vision of life that engages the whole person. This includes taking seriously the spiritual and moral dimensions that are present in business. The Bilbao symposium was an attempt to engage the whole person by examining creative and dynamic ways to help students go beyond their careers to that of a calling.

The conference brought together over 200 faculty and businesspeople from 30 different countries, representing a variety of disciplines: law, theology, finance, philosophy, engineering, management, economics, and marketing. Their evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, which stemmed from three integrating qualities: academic, practical and spiritual. First, the symposium provided an academic and scholarly platform to examine an array of concepts and ideas within the Catholic social tradition that are rarely examined together in traditional conferences. Many of the participants noted as refreshing the broad and profound examination of issues within an interdisciplinary context in which a common commitment of ideas within Catholic social thought were shared.

Second, the symposium was grounded in the experience and practice of businesspeople. Several sessions had presentations and responses by businesspeople; also, part of the conference was held at Mondragón Cooperatives, where participants had a chance to see and hear how this company is living out its calling. Inspired and guided by the vision of Father José Maria Arrizmendiarrieta, whose theology and philosophy of work was grounded in the Catholic social tradition, Mondragón is a complex of businesses in the Basque region with more than 30,000 workers and more than $6 billion in annual sales.

Third, besides the academic and practical qualities, the symposium was infused with a spiritual quality expressed by daily Mass, a pilgrimage to Loyola, the birthplace of Ignatius of Loyola, and spiritual talks by Father John Haughey. This spiritual quality reminded participants that God was in our midst, and that our academic and practical discussions and insights need to rest in God’s grace and word for the more profound insights to emerge.

Overall, the symposium contributed to building a “community of scholars” who share a deep commitment to Catholic social thought, enriched by the diversity of disciplines, nationalities, faiths and perspectives of others.

The John A. Ryan Institute and Loyola University of Chicago are organizing a followup conference to Bilbao to be held at the University of St. Thomas in August 2004. This conference will aim to produce a tightly organized volume on the topic of business as a calling. The volume will be part of a series on the Catholic social tradition by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Papers from the Symposium can be found at:

Three Themes of the Symposium

Business as a Calling: Is there such a thing as a personal calling to business as a vocation? If so, what is the nature of this calling? What is the person being called to be or to do? Who or what is calling? What is the relationship between the specific task of business and the general call to holiness and love? Or is the life of a businessperson merely a necessary means, a sequential step, to pursue their real vocation somewhere else? What are the attitudinal, moral and spiritual differences between one who sees business as a career and one who has a sense of calling in business?

The Calling of Business: Is there such a thing as a “calling” for the business enterprise itself? If so, what is the nature of this calling? Can one speak of a corporate or organizational calling? How can business be understood as an integral part of the comprehensive and general call of humanity to holiness? Or is business an area of life exempted from this sort of thing? What would it be called to be, do or become; that is, what vision, policies and practices might managers pursue, advocate and use if they accepted the idea that a given business enterprise was itself called? What is the connection between the mission of an organization and its calling?

Pedagogical models and practices: What are the implications of this discussion on vocation and calling for Catholic colleges and universities? What cases and pedagogical methods can be used to better integrate the notion of personal and organizational vocation in business education at the university level?

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