29 With lay leadership the world community entered a new relationship with the Society of Jesus, a partnership in mission. During General Congregation 35 the Jesuits identified CLC as a community with “roots that are deep in the charism and history of the Society” and expressed an intention of continuing to work together. Father General Adolfo Nicolás, who accepted the role of ecclesial assistant to CLC from Pope Benedict XVI, told the delegates at a world assembly in Portugal, “We Jesuits are extremely happy to see that the gifts of Ignatius are yours, are spreading and move beyond Jesuit circles and control. . . . It is our joy to see the gifts of Ignatius become our shared patrimony for the good of the Church and the World.” A laywoman from France named Josée Gsell proved to be one of the extraordinary leaders that steered the challenging process of renewal and transformation. Born in 1925 in St. Hippolyte, in the Alsace region of eastern France, Gsell was deeply formed in an apostolic faith through the Christian Agricultural Youth movement during the “Springtime of Catholic Revival” in the years following World War II. In 1960 Gsell moved to Paris seeking theological training from the Jesuits. Deeply imbued with devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and desiring better formation in Ignatian spirituality, she joined the French sodality. In that setting she studied Karl Rahner’s theological exposition of the Spiritual Exercises and then made the Exercises in a long retreat under Maurice Guiliani, a French Jesuit who pioneered the restoration of individually guided Spiritual Exercises for laypersons according to the Nineteenth Annotation. In the midst of her long retreat Gsell recognized a call to “help souls,” as Ignatius had, by sharing her extraordinary experience and leadership talents with other laypeople. She teamed up with a small group of Jesuits who were guiding members of the French sodalities in the Exercises, and became a national leader in the French federation. When CLC identified the Spiritual Exercises as the characteristic instrument of member formation, world leaders realized that a strong formation team would have to be established at the
30 world office in Rome. Father Arrupe, the new Jesuit general, recommended Josée Gsell and urged that they hire her as executive secretary with a mandate to develop formation programs grounded in Ignatian spirituality. For sixteen years Gsell traveled to sixty-five nations organizing and leading formation programs for local leaders with strategies for developing small communities of faith, teaching personal and communal discernment of spirits, providing methods for giving the Exercises to persons of every economic strata, and recommending practical ways for first-world members to simplify their lifestyles. All over the world she led institutes on social analysis, and workshops on discovering the greatest needs for service within various settings and social conditions.
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