Agents of Impact | October 11, 2019

John O’Shaughnessy, Franciscan Sisters of Mary

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ImpactAlpha, Oct. 11 – John O’Shaughnessy walked away from his first Social Capital Markets, or SOCAP, conference with a sense of shared values with impact investors in attendance. “This was our community, faith-based or not,” he told ImpactAlpha. “It didn’t, quite frankly, matter.”

O’Shaughnessy, for more than 25 years the CEO and CFO of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, saw impact investing as a way for the congregation to extend its ministries beyond direct health services in St. Louis. O’Shaughnessy enlisted Imprint Capital (since acquired by Goldman Sachs) and moved 15% of the Sisters’ total assets into more than two dozen clean energy and agriculture impact funds and other impact investments. He directed another 63% of the portfolio toward ESG, or environmental, social and governance, strategies in public equities. The Sisters recently put another 5% of assets into Morgan Stanley’s Climate Solutions Fund.

Catholic institutions commit to move $40 billion towards impact

“Women religious are far and away the early leaders in the space because they are generally open to the ‘new’ and willing to let go of the old and empty,” he says.

What was missing at SOCAP and other gatherings, O’Shaughnessy realized, were peers. “Something’s going on here,” he thought, “and the Catholic community seems to be unaware.” Over dinners In St. Louis, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, O’Shaughnessy spread the impact investing gospel, so to speak.

This week, O’Shaughnessy announced in London that six U.S.-based Catholic institutions, with a combined $40 billion in assets, have issued a “Catholic impact investing pledge,” committing more of their capital to the twin crises of climate change and social inequity.

Catholic institutions that cede full authority over their investment programs—including financial and missional elements—to their investment committees and outside consultants are stuck in the old and empty,” he wrote in an email from London. “For the Catholic investing community to produce positive impacts in the world that will amount to more than a hill of beans, leaders of Catholic institutions need to follow the example of their progressive sisters.”