Venerable Ignacia Del Espiritu Santo (Foundress of the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary)

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Her style of leadership

IGNACIA DEL ESPIRITU SANTO lived at a time when it was difficult, if not unimaginable, for native people to occupy positions of leadership in society. If they did, it was because of the favor granted by the colonial masters, the Spanish Governor and the members of the Spanish nobility or the Royal Audiencia. Leadership was seen more as a privilege granted by the ruling class to the natives rather than the inherent right of the natives to govern themselves.

In such situation, Mother Ignacia and her community of beatas proved the innate capacity for leadership of native women. She exercised her leadership not so much as a privilege but as a responsibility. She chose to lead with others. Her leadership was not a one-woman rule. She tried to balance the structure of leadership with communal responsibility. She welcomed others as partners. In this form of leadership, Mother Ignacia opened the possibility for the community to continue to exist even after her death.


Her leadership was characterized by mutuality. Mutuality is a form of relation that involves “give and take according to each one’s strengths and weaknesses” and trust, affection and respect of differences. As foundress and superior, she occupied the top position of leadership in the community. She, however, knew the limits of her role. She governed after the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She did not take advantage of her position or play favorites.

She led by example. Her community was formed because other women saw her example of prayer and virtue. She did not ask her beatas to do anything that she herself had not done. She became the “role model” of her companions in the life of prayer, penance and work.

Her leadership was marked with less intervention by outside forces. Mother Ignacia recognized the civil and religious leaders of her society but she did not allow connections with these leaders to intervene in the governance of her community. She did not make things easier by being connected with the powers that be. She obeyed “in all matters except what is sinful.”

She allowed the recogimiento to be under the guiding wisdom of the Jesuit fathers, the jurisdiction of the Ordinary of the place and the administration of the parish priest of the natives in the city, and to be visited by ecclesiastical authorities. But the government of her house remained independent.

Her leadership was characterized by humility. Mother Ignacia knew her strength and weaknesses. She was not afraid to know the truth about herself. This is evident in the rule which she does not excuse anyone from being corrected for the good of the community.

Faults and customs against the rules and customs of the community should be corrected without exception of persons so that the younger members may not take liberties seeing that the faults of the older ones are left unpunished (1726 Rule, II.19)

Fr. Murillo Velarde, SJ tells us that the greatest sign of humility was her abdication from superiorship of the house. Her humility is closely bound up with love. This kind of humility is not to be understood in terms of lowliness but selflessness. She exercised this virtue as a Christian, not for promoting self-esteem or pride.

Ignacia allowed herself to pale “in the light emerging leadership.” It was her choice to relinquish power and not cling to it; to exercise power both in terms of “power to do” and “power to be.” She did not dominate, control, and deny the existence of others. She had the capacity “to draw forth a person’s potential.” By abdicating she manifested a leader’s gift of recognizing the giftedness of others. Ignacia was a woman-leader who was able to unite women-force, which blazed a path for the marginalized yndias, mestizas and Espanolas to follow.

There are as many types of leadership as there are many leaders. But Ignacia as a leader and the beaterio she started as a reflection of her leadership can be looked at as a strong proof of women-power.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on June 29, 2014.


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