Wheaton Franciscans to divide their health ministry to preserve it

November 15, 2015

The Wheaton Franciscan Sisters intend to transfer all health care and housing ministries under their sponsorship to four other organizations during the first quarter of 2016. When the transfers are complete, the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters will no longer be involved in these ministries.

Sr. Norton

Pending regulatory approval, the Southeast Wisconsin region of Glendale, Wis.-based Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare will join Ascension, based in St. Louis; its Iowa region will join Mercy Health Network, based in West Des Moines, Iowa; Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital will become part of Northwestern Medicine in Chicago; and Franciscan Ministries independent and assisted-living housing will join Mercy Housing, based in Denver.

With just 53 sisters remaining in the American Province, the order's involvement in its health care ministries has dwindled. Most of the sisters are retired or semi-retired, and none work at the sites anymore, said Sr. Pat Norton, OSF, chair of the sponsor member board for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. According to the order's website, the sisters engaged in a discernment process over 18 months to find the right organization for each region and division of the health care ministries.

"The sisters are transitioning out of the health care and housing ministries and will not serve as sponsors or board members," Sr. Norton said in an email, adding that many of the retired and semi-retired members of the order, "are involved in various forms of volunteer work. The sisters who are involved in active ministry work in peace and justice work or pastoral care."

Sr. Norton added that the sisters in active ministry will continue to work as spiritual directors, to teach English as a second language, to visit jailed undocumented immigrants and to work with the sisters of Nairobi to raise funds for Upendo Village, a facility in Kenya for people living with HIV/AIDS. The sisters also will continue to operate the Tau Center, a spiritual services program in Wheaton, Ill.

A press release from Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare said the sisters wanted to complete the transfer while their ministries are fiscally sound. According to Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, the system reported net income of $76.1 million, including $69.2 million from operations and $6.9 million in non-operating income.

Breaking down the transfer
Wheaton Southeast Wisconsin: The region includes eight hospitals with approximately 1,100 beds in Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine counties; the Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group with more than 300 physicians; a network of outpatient centers; three transitional and extended care facilities; and home health and hospice services. It is expected to join Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S., and become part of Ascension Wisconsin, which currently consists of Columbia St. Mary's and Ministry Health Care in Milwaukee and Ministry's Affinity Health System, based in Menasha.

Included in the pending transfer are Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-St. Francis and the nursing home on that campus, the Terrace at St. Francis, both of which are co-sponsored by the Felician Sisters of North America, based in Beaver Falls, Pa. The Felicians also will transfer their sponsorship to Ascension.

Wheaton Iowa: The region includes three hospitals in Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Oelwein with a total of 511 beds, as well as Covenant Clinic, with more than 130 employed primary care and specialty providers. It is expected to join Mercy Health Network, which was formed in 1998 in a joint operating agreement between Catholic Health Initiatives, based in Englewood, Colo., and Trinity Health, based in Livonia, Mich. Mercy Health Network owns medical centers in Clinton, Des Moines, Dubuque, Mason City and Sioux City as well as six community hospitals and is affiliated with 27 community hospitals and 151 physician clinics.

Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital: Located in Wheaton, Ill., the hospital has 127 rooms with acute medical rehabilitation and skilled nursing beds. Marianjoy has a long-standing relationship with Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Ill., which recently became a member of Northwestern Medicine, a collaboration between Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Because Northwestern is not a Catholic organization, Marianjoy will no longer be a ministry of the Catholic church. Marianjoy, situated on the motherhouse campus, will continue to offer spiritual services.

"We also know that our Franciscan heritage will continue to be part of who Marianjoy is, as associates and physicians continue to provide care for our patients and families with our compassionate caring spirit," said Anne Ballentine, a spokesperson for the sisters. "The Wheaton Franciscan Sisters will still be neighbors with their continued presence on the campus."

Franciscan Ministries: The system's housing division operates 2,620 units of independent and assisted living in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Its pending acquisition of 1,200 units in eight states is expected to proceed, and all would become part of Mercy Housing, which has a presence in 41 states and serves thousands of low-income families, seniors and people with special needs. According to the organization's website, Mercy Housing was founded in 1981 by the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha, Neb.

Wheaton Franciscan history
The Wheaton Franciscans were founded in Germany in 1860 as the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. They arrived in the U.S. in 1872 and in Milwaukee in 1879, starting a health care ministry in a small house downtown and founding St. Joseph Hospital four years later. The order expanded south in 1882, founding St. Mary's Hospital in Racine.

Eventually, the Franciscans expanded to sponsor two other hospitals in Milwaukee as well as hospitals in Appleton, Wis., and Waterloo, Iowa. The order became known as the Wheaton Franciscans in 1947, after the sisters moved their motherhouse from St. Louis to Wheaton, Ill.

In 1983, the sisters took over sponsorship of Elmbrook Memorial Hospital, started by the Misericordia Sisters, and founded Wheaton Franciscan Services. The system grew to include 17,000 associates at more than 100 sites in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Colorado, including 14 hospital campuses, three transitional and extended care facilities, two home health agencies, nearly 3,000 physicians, 70 clinic sites and a housing division.


Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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