Modern and mostly secular folks probably wouldn’t think that religious people might teach us something about politics and leadership. But there are important lessons about leadership found in my study of a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century religious order over the course of 150 years or so. After all, Catholic women religious have been electing their leadership democratically for centuries before secular men thought elections might be a good idea for civil society.
These women ran triennial elections for their superior, her assistant, dépositaire (treasurer), scrutaine (overseer of elections), novice mistress, and other lesser offices. Some Ursulines in my book even engaged in early ratf^(king operations. It’s true!
I reveal all of the details in my soon-to-be released new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, but just with you, dear readers, I’ll share some of the interesting parallels I found to the challenges facing North American women politicians even today. Mother Esther (1696-1780) served in most of the elected offices in the Ursuline convent before being elected superior three times in the 1760s, a time of political, religious, and economic crisis in the wake of the British conquest of Quebec in 1759. Her leadership and entrepreneurial financial management of the order through the 1760s permitted the order’s school and novitiate not only to survive in this uncertain decade, but to expand and thrive before Catholics were guaranteed the right to practice their religion by the Quebec Act of 1774.
How did she do it? Continue reading