Dr. Brennan Pursell, associate professor of business at DeSales University, saw the synchronicity of two Francises in his professional life: St. Frances DeSales, known for patience and gentleness, and Pope Francis, a humble leader devoted to the poor. Pursell theorized that their combined virtues might well inform a world emerging from the global pandemic. That idea resulted in the July 22 publication of his book, Yes Francis! Ways to Help the Post-Pandemic World.
Yes Francis! rests on a Nov. 2021 published comment from Pope Francis. Assessing a world beset by a healthcare calamity, ongoing environmental threats, and unfolding social upheavals, the pontiff wrote: “…let us not forget that crises are also windows of opportunity.”
The thought got Pursell thinking: What can we all do to make the world a little bit better when the COVID crisis subsides?
“This was a great challenge,” he said, “one that we should all take on in our own way.”
The idea evolved into a group project that Pursell felt would result in a publishable manuscript.
He reached out to 14 colleagues from the DeSales campus and asked for their thoughts on a post-pandemic world.
Seeking a wide variety of viewpoints, Pursell’s list comprised “…professors with different backgrounds and fields of expertise in business, economics, education, and healthcare.”
Pursell recognized the challenge presented to his authors.
“I encouraged my colleagues to tackle tough issues head on, matters like health and taxes, but to do so gently, with humility, in the spirit of DeSales University’s patron, St. Francis de Sales,” he said.
“That is why there is a picture of both Francises — the pope and the saint — on the cover. In a time of declining civility in speech and demeanor, we want to adhere to a better, higher standard.”
Assembling the Narrative
As the responses began filtering back, Pursell entered what he characterized as his favorite part of the project.
“As a contributing author and editor, the most fun was the writing and editing itself, just learning from my colleagues. Loved it!”
Pursell worked to ensure the content was accessible.
“All contributing authors made every effort to limit the use of jargon and rarefied, specialized academic writing,” he explained. “We used plain language for the widest possible audience.”
The aim was to produce a compelling work that would appeal to a common reader interested in improving the systems and practices that affect our country and our world.
The Tough Part
Following the receipt of his colleagues’ input, the work got real.
Pursell did the initial editing himself, with further scrubs of the text (proofreading, for instance) done by multiple sets of eyes.
“My author colleagues were gracious with cuts, edits, and recommended corrections,” he remembered. “But when I heard from them, ‘Brennan, it just doesn’t sound like me,’ I knew the editing had gone too far.
“Editing is a balancing act. You cannot get 14 authors to write in a single style. But you can align them around a collective tone.
“It helps that we had a common purpose.”
The proofreader provided a valuable review.
“She was great,” Pursell assessed. “She found numerous little errors that both the chapter authors and I missed.
One particularly time-consuming publishing task was obtaining copyright clearance for the charts and graphs intended to bolster the information in the text.
But the effort was worth the wait: “It’s great to see them printed in color in the final product,” Pursell noted.
One of Pursell’s greatest hopes for Yes, Francis! is that it sparks conversation among disparate groups.
He’s particularly eager for the DeSales Center Valley campus to become a focal point for understanding this opportune moment in history and discussing the best way forward.
“It would be great if people read Yes, Francis! and felt inspired to join us at DeSales U in dialogue,” he invited.
“The old ivory tower model does not really help prepare today’s students for the world we live in. Projects with local organizations do!
“Professors and students can work together with neighbors and stakeholders to add value and gain experience.”
Pursell’s final thoughts are an encouragement for readers to obtain, digest, and consider the book for themselves.
“Spend some time with our ideas,” he advised. “Then reach out. Find us at DeSales with your reactions and own thoughts.”
He concluded with this: “Above all, let’s all take the current crises we face — in health, economics, politics, climate, supply chain, what have you — as a chance to take a hard look at what we do and how we work.
“We can improve things, but reform starts best within each us. “As Mahatma Gandhi supposedly said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’”