Economy of Communion conference considers role of faith in the marketplace

| June 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

The founders of a Montreal-based pilgrimage travel company, an Indianapolis environmental consulting firm and a cybersecurity risk business near Washington, D.C., were among attendees and speakers at a June 9-12 conference exploring a business model designed to put people first.

The annual Economy of Communion conference was held for the first time at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, drawing almost 60 business people, academics and other professionals to discuss the relationship between business and subsidiarity, poverty and ecology. Sponsored by St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business and John A. Ryan Institute of Catholic Social Thought, the conference focused on the theme “Hope in Action.”

Catholic roots

Economy of Communion — often abbreviated EoC — traces its founding to Chiara Lubich’s 1991 visit to Brazil. Lubich — whose sainthood cause is underway — was the Italian foundress of Focolare, a unity-based worldwide movement mostly composed of Catholics. Lubich’s visit was a response to Brazil’s imbalanced economy and St. John Paul II’s 1991 social encyclical “Centesimus Annus” (“Hundredth Year”).

While in Brazil, Lubich and other Focolare members conceived the Economy of Communion as a way to apply Focolare’s emphasis on community and love of neighbor to the marketplace through a model based on fraternity and profit-sharing. The model was developed with Catholic social teaching and now informs about 850 businesses worldwide.

EoC businesses practice the model in different ways, but are generally committed to focusing on relationships in business transactions, solidarity with the poor, elevating the dignity of work and practicing generosity in the workplace.

“EoC gives hope there’s another way of doing things,” said Nicola Sanna, CEO of RiskLens, the Washington-based cybersecurity risk company, speaking to conference attendees June 10. He said that with EoC, business is an instrument for making a difference in the world.

He compared the model to the lives of the early disciples as described in Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind. . . . There was no needy person among them.”

“Sometimes I think about the EoC enterprise as being like a small arc in the middle of the world where there are storms, where there are challenges, there are temptations of doing things your own way, for your own selfish interest,” Sanna said, “and these [EoC businesses] being environments where people can find fulfillment as entrepreneurs, as workers, as academics, as students, as customers [and] sometimes as competitors, and environments where you can discover the true meaning of what business can be within the spirit of communion.”

Attentive to the moment

Some EoC businesses are part of the North American EoC Association. Others are strongly inspired by EoC practices but not association members.

John Mundell, president and founder of Mundell and Associates, an Indianapolis-based environmental consulting company with 25 employees, has described the Economy of Communion as “not giving a person a fish, nor teaching them how to fish, but fishing with them.”

As an EoC business, there’s an “attitude” that differentiates his business from others, he told The Catholic Spirit.

“Every minute of the day, the business owner tries to see each person with new eyes, with a vision — at least from a Catholic perspective, because I’m Catholic — of who has God put next to me in that present moment that I can love [and] I can help find fulfilling work in the business,” he said, “[and] how I can help create this work place of communion where people look at each other as a family and try to establish this kind of atmosphere . . . that helps those in need.”

He described an EoC workplace as a place where each employee is made to feel valued and matched with work suited to his or her skills and talents, that practices the principals of subsidiarity and solidarity, and helps employees reach their highest potential.

In April 2015, Sanna and Mundell presented on Economy of Communion principles at St. Thomas’ seventh annual Higher Calling dinner, which is sponsored by the university’s Veritas Institute, the John A. Ryan Institute and the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership of the Center for Catholic Studies.

According to Mundell, no Minnesota businesses are EoC members, but at least one has expressed interest.

Faith-animated business

About 80 percent of EoC businesses are founded with the principles; the other 20 percent have adapted their workplaces to the model, said Jeanne Buckeye, an associate professor of ethics and business law at St. Thomas and co-author of “Structures of Grace: The Business Practices of the Economy of Communion” (New City Press, 2014).

EoC “is a good principle for people in business to really manage resources wisely, and if we talk about humans in the workplace as ‘human resources’ then why not use a principle like this that actually considers them resources?” said Buckeye, the interim director of the John A. Ryan Institute, which she said has had a long relationship with the EoC. “They have native resources — gifts from God — that may or may not be part of their routine in their job or fully used in their job, but if recognized, freed and encouraged to use those gifts, they become that much more valuable as resources.”

In a June 10 keynote address, Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies, which oversees the John A. Ryan Institute, addressed the role of subsidiarity and solidarity in a business “animated by faith.”

Naughton helped to write the “Vocation of the Business Leader” issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2012, and in 2015 co-authored “Respect in Action: Applying Subsidiarity in Business” with Buckeye, Kenneth Goodpaster and T. Dean Maines.

Breaking down the word “respect” to its meaning of “taking another look,” Naughton said that respect when applied to EoC businesses and subsidiarity “is for leaders to take another look, to go beyond their first impressions and recognize the unrepeatable, irreplaceable personal reality of the person that is sitting in front of you.”

That “re-looking,” he said, should inspire business leaders to ask how they can draw on the diversity of all the gifts and talents their employees bring.

He acknowledged that it’s not an easy task.

Joining the conference were 15 faculty members from Catholic University Institute of Buea, a six-year-old Catholic university in Cameroon billed as “The Entrepreneurial University,” who were finishing a two-week seminar on Catholic identity and mission at the University of St. Thomas. The Cameroonian university was founded with the Economy of Communion model, which is also integrated into its business program.

For more information, visit or follow Economy of Communion in North America on Facebook.

Starting with oneself

The Catholic Spirit asked John Mundell, president and founder of Mundell and Associates, an Indianapolis-based environmental consulting company, where someone who is interested in applying Economy of Communion principles to their workplace should start. He replied as follows:

“Start with yourself. The choice you have to make is whether you want to live a kind-of new business lifestyle that is reflected in communion, in this idea of unity within the business, with support for the poor, with how you interact with your employees. . . . When you start working with yourself, people will notice that and they’ll ask, ‘Why did you do that? . . .  And it gives an opportunity to share . . . and they say, ‘I want to join that, too.’”


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