Congregations customize approaches to preserving their ministries

November 1, 2022


As congregations sponsoring eldercare facilities lay plans to ensure their ministries will flourish with or without them, they must devise customized strategies to reflect their circumstances and goals.

Two eldercare ministries shared with Catholic Health World how they've proceeded.

Allison Q. Salopeck is president and chief executive of Jennings, a Catholic organization with four Northeast Ohio eldercare campuses. She said that since the Sisters of the Holy Spirt made the decision to transition to lay sponsorship for Jennings, the system has been intentional about preserving the order's legacy and charism.

For the first 50 years of Jennings' 80-year history, the sponsor was a three-person corporate member that included the superior of the congregation, the bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland and the president of Catholic Charities in Cleveland. In the 1990s the structure changed and the superior of the congregation became the sole sponsor.

In about 2010, the sisters began discernment on the future of their order; and, in 2015, they planned to move toward the order's dissolution with the death of the last sister.

The congregation wanted Jennings to continue as a Catholic system. To achieve this, in May 2020, the sisters formally determined with the support of the Cleveland bishop and a team of advisers to transition Jennings sponsorship to a five-person corporate member body. That group included the first lay sponsors and the final superior of the congregation. She died in 2021. The last sister also died in 2021. The current corporate member body is comprised of four lay members and a priest.

Salopeck said the sisters knew as they were making these decisions that Jennings would be in good hands.

To preserve the sisters' legacy, Jennings has been forming its sponsor members in the order's charisms and in Catholic identity. Much of the formation curriculum is from CHA.

Salopeck said Jennings also has been intentional about teaching staff about the history of Jennings and their role in carrying on the mission.

The sisters' influence runs deep as Jennings leaders and associates who worked alongside the sisters and counted the sisters among their friends share funny, heartwarming and bittersweet stories of the sisters with colleagues and residents.

Salopeck says in her three decades with Jennings, she grew close to many of the sisters, with some of them attending her wedding and the baptisms of her children.

Artifacts from the congregation's former home including photos are displayed at every Jennings facility. The residence has been converted to affordable housing.

Lisa Brazytis, Jennings chief marketing officer, is creating a storyline display about the sisters that will go in the lobby of Jennings' flagship facility.

Salopeck said of the remembrances of the sisters and their legacy: "It touches something that resonates with people. They remember why they said yes to working here, and residents remember why they said yes to living here and staying here."

Welcoming others
Mother Mary Rose Heery, O CARM, is prioress general and general council member of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, New York. She said with 138 sisters that congregation has enough members to maintain its role as sponsor of the congregation's 20 long-term care facilities in the U.S. and Ireland and to ensure the sisters' charism of love for the elderly continues to permeate their facilities.

Mother Heery

Sisters maintain an ongoing presence in the congregation's facilities, which are located in Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Many of the sisters have worked as administrators or in other leadership roles at Carmelite facilities or have served on the facilities' boards. Sponsors serve on the board of the Carmelite System. Each of the system's facilities also has its own board. Members of the Carmelites' leadership council and other sisters serve on those boards.

This has helped congregation members become intimately connected with those facilities and their work. Sisters also fill mission integration roles at the facilities.

The Carmelites offer a formation program for lay leaders of their facilities and ongoing formation and mission education for all employees.

Mother Heery said the Carmelite Sisters restructured their ministries to allow for the full integration of the facilities of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa to become part of the Carmelite congregation's system. The Sisters of Charity's D'Youville Life & Wellness Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, is being folded into the Carmelite System. The two congregations have been undertaking a three-year transition that will end in June 2023.

Mother Heery said the Carmelites are open to assuming responsibility for other congregations' eldercare facilities.

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