UCSIA supports Jesuit formation for European Leadership

By now it is difficult to remember that one year ago hundreds of millions of Europeans were holding heated debates about the European Parliament elections, about who should head the next Commission or how the EU institutions might evolve in the coming five years. The COVID crisis brings a complete change of perspective. Leadership looks different in times crisis. What the Union now needs are leaders of change, proper leadership for change. Now is the time for the next generation of leaders to step up, the same way Adenauer, Schuman, Spaak or Gasperi did in the aftermath of a shattering war, designing a structure for the coming generations. In a way, this is exactly what the European Leadership Programme is hoping for in the long term: to form leaders, offering the conditions for young people from all member states, from the South to the North, the East to the West, to take part in the governance of the joint European project. They are our hope for a renewed and strengthened Europe after the crisis, by discerning in common what is truly critical in the coming decades.

The European Leadership Programme is an initiative of the Jesuit European Social Centre, supported by the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials. The University Centre Saint Ignatius Antwerp supports the programme by hosting the academic paper session presented to a jury at the University of Antwerp and co-organizing the graduation ceremony.

The programme’s final aim is to help reform the spiritual, social and political life in Europe, reorienting it towards a quest for the common good, in line with the long Jesuit tradition in forming leaders to change the world.

It is a fellowship for ten to twelve master students per semester, who participate to develop their leadership skills in international policy and advocacy.

The programme offers a comprehensive formation experience, consisting of a semester-long internship, encompassing five modules: immersion in the administrative and political setting of EU institutions, academic classes and workshops with practitioners, voluntary work in marginalized communities in Brussels, spiritual training and living in community.

What does one need to be a good leader? Pope Francis, at a conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, gave the following response: “To be a leader demands thoughtfulness, training and experience”. This appears to be contradictory to the widespread opinion, that successful leadership results from a certain kind of personality. Leaders, according to this view, are born, not made. Decisiveness and determination are the traditional traits of leaders but these qualities do not suffice to respond to contemporary political challenges.

In order to provide vision and values for Europe, JESC launched the European Leadership Programme (ELP) to train an integral type of leader for shaping the future of the European Union. The idea of launching a leadership programme to support the European idea was developed by John Dardis SJ, former President of the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU. In 2017, this task was given to JESC.

The ELP is a Brussels-based project which enhances leadership values and skills through a comprehensive formation experience that is offered to young potential leaders from Europe and the Middle East. It combines the elements of political training, higher education, community building, social outreach and faith formation.

The aim is to form future leaders practically and spiritually by helping ELP fellows learn about the European institutions through direct contact with politicians and decision makers while they study leadership issues and earn ECTS credits. In addition, an immersion programme brings them in touch with marginalized people and those in need. Both the coaching programme and the experience of a supportive community gives the participants space for reflection and personal growth.

Because leadership is not just a matter of knowledge, an integration of knowledge and experience into one’s own inner life gives orientation and support in the sometimes tough task of leadership. To address these challenges, ELP provides a personal coaching programme by professional spiritual guides. Participants live in communities, which offers a shared experience of learning and living together.

In 2019, JESC recruited, formed and trained two cohorts of about 20 fellows, over a period of five months – the first beginning in March and the other in October. JESC attracted the participation of a number of high-level officials and professors as speakers and collaborated with several organizations where fellows did traineeships, ranging from European institutions to business and Catholic associations working in European policy making. It collaborates with UCSIA for the organization of the jury for the presentation of the end of term papers of the students at the University of Antwerp and the graduation ceremony at Jesuit College Matteo Ricci in Molenbeek.

Graduating ELP Fellows, 2020 © JESC

The Jesuit College Matteo Ricci, a new French-speaking general secondary school, that opened its doors in Brussels in September 2019, itself embodies the Jesuit mission for social leadership. It was realized by people involved in associations in Brussels, by former Jesuit students and by the Society of Jesus, in dialogue with the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels as a response to the urgent need to build new secondary schools, particularly in areas of high demographic tension. It offers young people, especially those of the multicultural crescent of Brussels, a quality education, in keeping with the tradition of Jesuit pedagogy.


Jesuit European Social Centre


Koningstraat 2
B-2000 Antwerpen
Tel. +32 (0)3 265 49 60

Voorlopige locatie tijdens de renovatiewerken:
Blindestraat 14, 2000 Antwerpen