You can’t be what you can’t see: why Catholic women look for mentors and how the Church can support them


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“Being connected to mentors in their respective fields places before young women the manifestation of the hope that they, too, can walk that path successfully,” believes Nicole Perone as she embarks on a what she hopes to be a life-long ministry in the Church. Should the Catholic Church invest more in mentoring promising young women like her?

Business experts agree that to advance to leadership positions, talent and hard work are not necessarily all that women need. This recent article highlights the role of mentors. According to the article, a mentor is a guide who offers you advice, helps you solve problems, provides a sounding board, and shares his or her years of experience to help you learn and grow.

While in the world of business, the focus of finding a mentor might be to get a promotion or a pay raise, in the Church, women strive for leadership to be able to share their unique talents and perspectives and so advance the mission of the Church for the benefit of all.

Mentoring opens our eyes to what is possible

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Nicole Perone, an energetic young woman who captivated the Voices of Faith 2016 audience with her articulate and bold vision for the Church started recently working as the Director of Adult Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford. She hopes to work for the Catholic Church in the long-term. “My lifetime goal would be to work at the Vatican, either at a dicastery, pontifical council, or as a consultant,” she shares.

Perone told us that she has benefitted from having a mentor:

“Having a mentor has made a difference by first and foremost giving me a role model. There is a saying that “you can’t be what you can’t see” – which is why it is ultra-important that young women are connected to mentors in their respective fields. It places before them the manifestation of the hope that they, too, can walk that path successfully.”

German moral theologian Katharina Westerhorstmann agrees and points out that in theology, women are highly represented among students and entry-level staff but account for only 5 – 30% of professors at German theological faculties. “Mentoring is crucial in order to reach the goal articulated by Pope Francis to bring more women to academic careers in theology,” believes Westerhorstmann.

In addition to advancement to leadership roles, Perone highlights a deeper dimension to her mentoring experience. “As my mentor witnessed my gifts and talents, she could recognize ways that they could serve the Church – ways that I had never even imagined.” In this way, Perone’s mentor helped to guide her discernment.

Pioneer project offers mentoring for women in the Church

Perone found her mentor through her own initiative but experience from the business world shows that companies that invest in formal mentoring programs are able to perform better. The Global Leadership Forecast Gender Report shows that giving women access to mentoring is one of the most effective ways how to close the gender gap in leadership positions. At the same time, the report warns that women experience a shortage of mentors – with fewer than one in three women reporting that their company has a strong mentorship program available for them.

Perhaps one of the first mentorship initiatives in the Catholic Church was recently initiated in Germany. The Hildegardis Association has in cooperation with 14 German dioceses started the “Church in mentoring – women on their way up” project for women working for the Catholic church. In a year-long program, young women are paired with experienced senior colleagues and attend a series of workshops and networking opportunities.

The project coordinator Alexandra Schmitz explains: “The Church needs women. Achieving higher proportions of women in leadership positions, attracting qualified younger women and increasing the attractiveness of the Church as a pro-women and pro-family employer will together contribute to long-term development of the Catholic Church in Germany in the 21st century. When we look at the political, social and demographic challenges, we see that we need to urgently move in this direction.” Indeed, these aims are in line with the goal of advancing women that were formulated at a 2012 Symposium of the German Bishop’s Conference.

Schmitz cites best practices from human resource management to illustrate why mentoring is a good fit for the Church: “Mentoring is a tried and tested human resources strategy that is sustainable and also takes into account the cultural environment. It works simultaneously on several levels – in pairs, in mentoring groups and in the organization itself and this makes it suitable for the needs of the Church.”

We asked Perone what she thought of this initiative and she agreed that it would be helpful: “I certainly would find such a program helpful. I am the kind of person who actively seeks out mentoring relationships and surrounds myself with strong women, but for the less-gregarious person, that could be challenging – and such a program would alleviate that problem.”

Do you have an experience as a mentor or a mentee? Do you know about other mentorship opportunities for women within the Catholic Church? Share with us your experience on facebook or twitter #AllVoicesCount.

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