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Women Leaders in the Ignatian Family

Jennifer Bordeaux-Black Bear

Institution: St. Francis Mission

Title: Director of Religious Education

Location: St. Francis, South Dakota

In a few sentences, what does your job entail?
As the director of religious education, I teach the Catholic faith and our Lakota teachings in a release-time program to 155 students in three schools during the school day. I also teach sacramental prep classes including baptism, First Communion and confirmation. We also have a youth group that we work with, called the SFM Youth group, for youth ages 11-18 years.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of the job is teaching our faith and culture!

What is one of the challenges you’re facing right now?
One of the challenges we face is the impact the boarding school has had on our people and communities. We had a boarding school on our reservation, and we see the effects of the generational trauma that continues today.

What are some of the lights and shadows you’ve experienced as a woman working in partnership with a men’s religious order?
I have been blessed to work in my position. One of the Father’s had faith in me to run the Religious Education program, and I think it has grown and continues to grow since I have started working here. I think I work well with the Jesuits and appreciate all I have learned from everyone I have worked with and continue to work with. 

How does Ignatian spirituality shape your approach to work?
Ignatian spirituality has helped shape my approach to work through the core values of the Gospel such as integrity, courage, love, forgiveness, hope, healing, service, justice and prayer. In all the work we do, we follow these values, which are similar to our Lakota values: respect, prayer, generosity, humility, honesty/truth, wisdom and compassion/caring.

How could the Jesuits and the church as a whole foster women’s leadership more effectively?
I think more support and encouragement for women who work in the church would help.

What’s one of your favorite quotes about leadership or the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
There was a Jesuit scholastic who is now a priest who was a big influence in our lives while he worked with the St. Francis Mission. We were doing a fundraiser for our parish, and I was worried nobody would come. He encouraged us to keep doing what we were doing and to remember that even if only one person shows up, we are still making a difference in someone’s life. I remember his words when I feel discouraged with anything we do.