Sponsors deliberating how best to preserve ministry's identity

June 1, 2012


The rapidly changing health care environment is challenging sponsors with new questions about how best to ensure that the ministry maintains its identity. Senior Catholic health leaders are asking themselves how they can equip and best support sponsors in meeting these challenges.

Terrance P. McGuire, a sponsor on the member board of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare of Wheaton, Ill., said "people have to understand the church and health care systems and the business of health care quite well to take on the ministry and role of sponsor," but such enlightenment is a journey not a fixed destination.

Sponsorship boards are responsible for ensuring their sponsored works remain grounded in the historic mission, vision and values of their founders, and that they maintain their Catholic identity. For some, but not all, ministry systems, the sponsoring body also is the governing body and has fiduciary and reserve powers.

It's essential work in a Catholic ministry, and with new issues impacting religious identity in a secular culture and creative business configurations blurring historically bright lines between for-profit and not-for-profit health care, McGuire and other Catholic health care leaders see a need for more ongoing education on the theological underpinnings of the ministry and more support for sponsors in their decision-making roles.

Thomas Morris, senior vice president of sponsorship and theology for Bon Secours Health System of Marriottsville, Md., said sponsors must ask hard questions and be courageous in the face of contemporary challenges. Those include assessing changes in business models, countering threats to conscience protections for providers, and interacting with the church hierarchy around questions of Catholic identity.

It's no wonder, then, that even seasoned sponsors clamor for meaningful opportunities to engage in deep dialogue on issues.

Sr. Catherine DeClercq, OP, senior vice president of governance and sponsorship for Trinity Health of Novi, Mich., said for many lay sponsors, the formation experience "gets into their bones and their heart. They're saying, 'We need to continually grow, and there are issues that surface continually that we need to reflect on.'

"People want to come for renewal and to be updated. They hunger for more once they get exposed to the richness of theology and ethical decision making," she said.

At the same time, ministry leaders are grappling with how to support veteran sponsors, they are turning their attention to their responsibility for developing the next generation of sponsors who are taxiing to the runway now. The old ways of forming leaders may need to be updated to prepare emerging leaders to use tools of contemplative decision making in a dynamic health care market.

McGuire said since many of the first generation of lay sponsors are in their 60s and 70s, succession has become a big issue for sponsor boards.

In September, sponsor experts from throughout the ministry convened in Chicago to talk through how well legacy formation methods are working and how they can be improved upon. Some participants in that meeting formed a task force that met again in Chicago last month to flesh out the issues related to sponsor formation, and identify action steps.

Shaping future sponsors
Much of the enculturation of sponsor-designees occurs during a process called formation. That, according to Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA senior director of sponsor services, is a long-term transformative process in which individuals integrate the values and culture of the Catholic tradition into their own thinking and decision processes. Sr. Haddad said formal formation programs provide participants with opportunities to deepen their understanding of the Catholic tradition through study, reflection and prayer.

Formation, according to Sr. Kathleen Pruitt, CSJP, a sponsor of PeaceHealth of Bellevue, Wash., is "about realizing that rich heritage … of care for the poor, care to the sick in the name of the healing Christ."

Evolving sponsorship models
Over the past decade and a half or so, sponsorship very gradually has been transitioning to lay leadership from a model in which women and men religious held the responsibility. The new models recognize the important role of laity in the church as emphasized by Vatican Council II, and they are a pragmatic adaptation to the decreasing number of sisters, priests and brothers.

While many lay sponsors are drawn from the ranks of people with prior senior leadership experience, including people who were or are health system and hospital chief executives and board members, McGuire said it also has been common for lay sponsors to be chosen because of a deep-seated experience with the Catholic health care tradition. McGuire, a senior vice president of mission integration for Felician Services of Chicago, was himself a religious brother for 20 years. Going forward he thinks fewer new sponsors will come to their responsibilities having been grounded in religious life and religious study like many of their predecessors were, and they'll likely have fewer opportunities to informally observe and interact with women and men religious, since there are so few members of congregations now working directly in health care.

Also, said Sr. Juliana Casey, IHM, there is a question about incoming sponsors' ability to devote as much time to sponsorship, particularly as compared to women and men religious in sponsor roles. "Time is always an issue because most lay sponsors have day jobs. So did religious, but they have a little more flexibility in their schedules." Sr. Casey is a consultant to religious communities, particularly on sponsorship concerns, and a sponsor with Providence Health & Services of Renton, Wash.

John Shea, director of program and processes development for the Ministry Leadership Center in Sacramento, Calif., said that, unlike religious sponsors, lay sponsors have not been steeped in the traditions of the congregations that founded the sponsored works.

Before joining a congregation, women felt an affinity to that community. When they entered, they underwent a gradual socialization that fed a deep commitment to sponsored works and charism. This immersion socialization process is missing for lay sponsors, Shea said, and so their style of sponsorship may differ from that of religious.

Assessing formation
It is typical for sponsoring bodies to use a mix of formation methods to educate potential, new and existing sponsors. Most will have system-specific orientation, including interaction with members of a system's founding congregation or congregations, as well as ongoing formation exercises, including reflections at meetings or retreats. Many also offer pilgrimages to the lands where their ministries were founded. Most also encourage their sponsors to participate in national formation opportunities, including meetings, conferences and webinars offered by CHA.

Many sponsors have participated in formation programs directed by one of two separate collaboratives of sponsoring congregations. The groups are the Collaborative Sponsor Formation Program, which is open to health systems of all sponsorship models. Both offer new sponsors within their member systems an opportunity to join a cohort that meets semiannually for two years to study topics such as spirituality, Catholic social teaching, health care ethics, canon law, applied theology and the work of the Catholic health ministry.

Trinity's Sr. DeClercq said ministry  leaders are discussing whether the two collaborative groups should expand their curriculum to include ongoing formation.

Also, she said, given the complexity of issues involving ethics and Catholic identity, there is a benefit to having a place where groups of sponsors can question, reflect and share ideas. "You allow people a safe forum where they can discuss these things," she said.

Sr. Pruitt said the task force also is considering practical matters including logistics and finances. Currently, the two collaborative groups fund their formation programs and staff them based on attendance; and neither collaborative has a formal home. The task force is weighing whether it makes sense to give the programs a centralized home, and establish a permanent staff of instructors and a steady stream of income.

"We're trying to figure out how to keep this (formation work) going in the long run," said John Logue, a member of the Ascension Health Ministries sponsor board and director of a spirituality center at St. Vincent's HealthCare in Jacksonville, Fla.

The task force's work and other conversations on the topic are ongoing, and so ministry leaders have not yet decided on how to address the needs they're identifying for bolstering formation for the next generation of sponsors.

And yet, said Sr. Casey, the concentrated focus on improving formation programs has everyone involved expressing optimism and pride. There is a "kind of unspoken celebration or confidence in what has been achieved in terms of sponsor formation. In previous conversations there was a sense of concern or worry" about the responsibility to educate sponsors. Now though, the conversation centers on "growth and deep commitment and a kind of trust in the future of sponsorship."

Task force considers how to evolve formation model

CHICAGO — Six members of a ministry task force met here May 16 to consider the increasing diversity of sponsorship models in Catholic health care and how ministry sponsors might work together to evolve their current formation activities to respond to the changes and challenges ahead.

The sponsor formation task force discussed whether it might be beneficial for sponsors to integrate the two collaborative sponsor formation programs currently offered for ministry sponsors into a single program that would replace the Collaborative Formation Program for Public Juridic Persons and the Collaborative Sponsor Formation Program.

The task force is made up of representatives of each of the two collaboratives as well as of CHA's sponsor and canon law committee. The Chicago meeting included Terrance P. McGuire, senior vice president of mission integration for Felician Services, Chicago, and a member of the sponsor board of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare of Wheaton, Ill.; Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck FSPA, chair of the CHA sponsor/canon law committee; Sr. Teresa A Maltby, RSM, corporate member of Presence Health and chair of the Sisters of Mercy West/Midwest Health Council; Sr. Mary Noel Brown, CSA, executive leader of sponsorship for the Congregation of Sisters of Saint Agnes, Fond du Lac Wis.; Thomas H. Morris, senior vice president of sponsorship and theology for Bon Secours Health System, Marriottsville, Md.; and Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA's senior director of sponsor services.

The task force decided that over the next several months they will begin developing a proposal that sets the context of the discussions, spells out the assumptions that the groups are making about the type of formation program they may wish to create, establishes potential goals and objectives for an optimal formation program and considers possible funding mechanisms for such a program. That document will be vetted with the members of the planning committees of the two collaborative sponsor formation groups, along with other key constituencies.

Among the issues before the task force is the extent to which CHA might be involved in developing or helping to support the program, how the best aspects of the existing programs might be incorporated into a next-generation program and who might run and staff the formation program. Task force members believe one end result of this concerted focus on improving the formation process could be to provide better access to formation programs for sponsoring bodies not currently part of the two sponsorship consortiums.

Task force members said the ideal formation program should include mechanisms for evaluating sponsor needs as they arise so that the formation program can be adjusted in real time to meet changing circumstances and issues.

Participants said it is important that sponsor groups served by the program have a continuing and essential role in its evolution over time.

In the coming months, task force members will be fleshing out their ideas on how best to proceed. The task force is early in its work and doesn't expect any immediate changes to the existing collaborative programs.

— Julie Minda

Collaborative groups

The two collaborative groups ministry members have developed to coordinate sponsor formation are:

Collaborative Formation Program for Public Juridic Persons

  • Bon Secours Ministries, Marriottsville, Md.
  • Catholic Health Care Federation, Englewood, Colo.
  • Catholic Health Ministries, Novi, Mich.
  • Covenant Health Systems, Tewksbury, Mass.
  • Hope Ministries, Newtown Square, Pa.
  • Providence Ministries, Renton, Wash.
  • St. Joseph Health Ministry, Orange, Calif.

Collaborative Sponsor Formation Program

  • Annunciation Monastery, Bismarck, N.D.
  • Ascension Health Ministries, St. Louis
  • Catholic Health Partners, Cincinnati
  • Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes, Fond du Lac, Wis.
  • Mercy Health Ministry, Chesterfield, Mo.
  • Mercy Medical Center, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • PeaceHealth, Bellevue, Wash.
  • Presence Health, Chicago
  • Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kan.
  • Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio
  • Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston
  • Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, Wheaton, Ill.

Sponsor formation task force members:

  • Sr. Mary Noel Brown, CSA, executive leader of sponsorship, Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Agnes, Fond du Lac, Wis.
  • Sr. Catherine O'Connor, CSB, vice president, mission and sponsorship, Covenant Health Systems, Tewksbury, Mass.
  • Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA senior director, sponsor services
  • Sr. Teresa A. Maltby, RSM, corporate member of Presence Health and chair of the Sisters of Mercy West/Midwest Health Council
  • Terrance McGuire, sponsor board member for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare of Wheaton, Ill.; and senior vice president of mission integration for Felician Services of Chicago
  • Thomas H. Morris, senior vice president, sponsorship and theology, Bon Secours Health System, Marriottsville, Md.
  • Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA, of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, La Crosse, Wis., and chair of the CHA sponsor/canon law committee


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.