In the face of the ecological crisis, the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace is a hopeful testament to the power of simple living and small, steady steps forward.
Since their founding, the Sisters have placed their values at the heart of their decision-making. From discerning the signs of the times to living their vow of poverty with consistency and fidelity, CSJP has become a leader in both mission and action in the Catholic Church.
The CSJP’s charism to 'promote peace through justice” is central to their work and identity – it also guides their financial management. To learn more about their journey and approach to impact investing, we spoke with Sr Susan Francois, who serves as Treasurer on the Congregation’s leadership team.
Sr. Susan Francois shares the sisters’ courage to take risks and
invest in sustainability that has greater impact.
In her role, Sr Susan works with CSJP’s CFO to align the Sisters’ financial resources, property, and people with their mission. She explains how the Gospel’s call for peace is integral to the CSJP’s everyday operations (click below to hear the interview):
As Sr Susan states, the Gospel spirit broadly encompasses the Sisters’ financial decisions – it influences everything, from their investment portfolios to their wage structure.
In terms of values-based investing, the CSJP’s journey began in the 1990s. Like many Catholic congregations and organisations, the Sisters participated in shareholder advocacy and screened out companies antithetical to Catholic teaching.
But in 2008 – seven years before Pope Francis would release his encyclical Laudato Si’ – the principle of Care for Creation became a criterion central to their investment strategy. The devastating effects of climate change and the Sisters’ commitment to care for the poor and the earth inspired them to start investing for impact.
A way of spreading the Gospel
Sr Susan describes how the CSJP’s’ initial commitment and first steps led them on a path toward full fossil fuel divestment:
Sr Susan explains the importance of committing to a set of values and collaborating with investment advisors to make that commitment a reality. And because of its effect on the market, she says, impact investing is a way of 'spreading the Gospel'.
CSJP has sisters in the UK and in Haiti: the global-mindedness and global-orientation of the sisters has prompted them to search for investment opportunities that allow them to 'act locally while thinking globally'.
CSJP’s commitment to the poor in their work and investment decisions brings Pope Francis’s charge to 'hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor' (Laudato Si’ 49) to life. This commitment is also supported by the Sisters’ simple lifestyles, which are lived out through vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Everything else that we have, we see as being meant for mission' – Sr Susan
As Sr Susan explains, these vows impact the way the Sisters see and use their resources: 'Our resources are for two reasons. One, they are for taking care of the sisters, now that the majority of our sisters are older, and…everything else that we have, we see as being meant for mission.'
For CSJP, the journey to promote ecological justice through impact investing continues to evolve. The Sisters have since signed onto the Laudato Si’ Action Platform’s seven-year commitment, which will involve taking closer looks at their investment strategies and charitable giving–another step toward ensuring their mission and resources are 'interwoven and interconnected'.
The text and spirit of Laudato Si’ have also been central to the Sisters’ investment journey: 'Pope Francis’s phrase “‘integral ecology’ has given us a theological framework for what we have already been discovering through our accompaniment with earth and with people.”
The decision to commit to impact investing isn’t always easy. Sr Susan says shifting mindsets from seeking short-term return to pursuing long-term impact can be challenging. For congregations and organisations on the verge of impact investing, she advises to keep it simple:
It's what we're here for' – Sr Susan
'We make things really complicated,' she says. 'But we don’t need to approach it that way. It really is just about being clear that we are co-creating this world with God, with the Spirit…that we have these gifts and that it’s our responsibility to be nice to each other, in the spirit of Fratelli Tutti; to do it joyfully, in the spirit of The Joy of the Gospel; and just to do what we can do. It’s what we’re here for.'