My pilgrimage as a woman in leadership in Jesuit education

"The idea of pilgrimage fits with my life’s journey but also helps me to explain what I have learned about serving as a leader in Jesuit schools over the past 15 years." 

The theme for 2021 at Xavier College is ‘Pilgrims on this earth, pilgrims with the Lord’.  

Fr J. Michael Sparough SJ writes, “We are indeed pilgrims on this earth. We come from God, and when our time on earth has ended, we journey back to God…Pilgrimages invite us to ponder the deeper questions of life: Why are we are here? Where are we headed? How do we get there?  

Fr Sparough SJ offers five ideas about how one can undertake this journey, this pilgrimage of life in order to stay true to oneself in whatever we do, in whatever capacity we serve.  He suggests one needs to look for and see the signs which point to what one needs for their life’s journey and what one needs to let go of.  Next, he asserts that there are times when we walk alone but at other times, we need companions who can accompany us on the way. Further he states, there will be pain – physical and emotional hurts in our lives – so we need to take care of ourselves and others to heal, still further, stay connected and engage with one’s spirituality in order to be more engaged, fully attentive in life and finally live out one’s spirituality one’s faith through service to others. 

This idea of pilgrimage fits with my life’s journey but also helps me to explain what I have learned about serving as a leader in Jesuit schools over the past 15 years.  Ignatian spirituality has kept me grounded and provided me with the tools with which to make life decisions and to understand my life experiences.  These have included the need for prayer and reflection, for taking time to discern the best way forward, to be resilient in a time of change and challenge and to remind myself to live my life in gratitude for all the gifts that have been bestowed on me.

As a teacher and leader in Catholic schools for over 35 years, my faith has always been an important part of who I am.  During my career I have held fast to the belief that God accompanies me on my life’s journey whether that be in times of sorrow and challenge, during times of joy and success and I hope that my actions and words are reflective of my faith.  

So, what has it meant to be a leader at Xavier College over the last ten years?  There are as many definitions of the word ‘leader’ or ‘leadership’ as there are people who hold these positions and just as many theories on types of or qualities of a ‘good’ leader.

Leadership is encompassed in the words and actions of Jesus.  He ate with sinners and outcasts, he discussed theology with women, and he healed through touch.  Therefore, leadership is about engaging with people on the margins, having unexpected conversations with different groups of people and being prepared to accompany those in pain with silence. 

A leader needs to develop an awareness of self and the impact of their interactions within the school community.  This enables one to be open to the possible, creatively problem solve and acknowledge the gifts and talents of others.  By being prepared to accompany and empower others, encouraging them and being empathetic to their needs, the leader is ensuring that the overall mission and vision remains at the forefront.  

Jesus’ central message that we should love one another means not merely engaging with those who support us but sitting with and listening to those who challenge us.  Being vulnerable and open adds depth to one’s humanity, building trust and integrity. Being audacious and courageous enables a leader to build a hopeful community; one that perseveres in times of adversity and uncertainty. Making time to be still and quiet is essential for reflecting on one’s day. This provides sustenance for the days to come.

As my time at Xavier College comes to a close after 10 years of service, I want to thank all those who have been a part of my life’s journey, my pilgrimage so far. I have learned much from conversations with colleagues and companions in mission and from working and walking with those around me and am grateful for every opportunity and experience I have had.

Christine Fonseca


Christine Fonseca is the Head of Faith and Service at Xavier College in Kew, Victoria.


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