Panelists explain how varying sponsor models help preserve Catholic identity

September 1, 2012

Speakers stress the need to properly form leaders


ST. LOUIS — During a session at CHA's annual "Pre-LCWR Assembly Sponsorship Conference," panelists described three distinct sponsorship models in use in the ministry and explained how sponsors employ each model to ensure their ministries continue on in a mission-based way.

CHA organized the panel to provide an opportunity for ministry leaders considering changes to their own sponsorship models, to compare and contrast different structures and to learn how each carries out the mission of the ministry.

A theme that emerged during the hour-long "Lived Experience of Health Ministries: Panel Discussion" is that everyone who works at, leads or sponsors a Catholic health ministry is participating in some way in a calling, and so it's essential that sponsorship structures enable sponsors to influence how that calling is interpreted and carried out in the sponsored works.

All people of faith "are called to respond to God, and so are our organizations," said panelist Sr. Patricia Eck, CBS, congregation leader for the Sisters of Bon Secours. To respond appropriately, she said, ministry organizations "must be able to be honest with themselves, see what the reality is and address reality."

Sr. Catherine DeClercq, OP, and Catherine Dulle also appeared on the panel at a gathering just before the annual meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious here in August. Sr. DeClercq is senior vice president of governance and sponsorship for Trinity Health of Novi, Mich. Dulle is president and chief executive of CareLinc Options and of Rehab Choice Incorporated, Rehab Outreach and Associated Rehabilitation Services. She also is a former chair of the board of directors of CHRISTUS Health of Irving, Texas.

Separate sponsor body and board
Sr. Eck said that the most important roles of sponsors "are to ensure the prophetic call (to ministry) is understood throughout the organization, to make sure that call makes it into strategic planning, and to ensure you have the right leaders in place to follow you."

She explained that the Sisters of Bon Secours have been accomplishing their sponsorship role since 2006 through a public juridic person body called Bon Secours Ministries, which acts as the sponsor for Marriottsville, Md.-based Bon Secours Health System.

That sponsoring body has three to nine members divided into two classes: Class A members are Bon Secours Sisters appointed by that congregation. Those members appoint the Class B members, who are Catholic laity. While Bon Secours Ministries holds the canonical responsibility for Bon Secours Health System, it carries out its civil responsibilities through Bon Secours, Inc. By virtue of their appointment to Bon Secours Ministries, those members also become members of Bon Secours, Inc. Bon Secours Health System has a separate governance board. Dr. Donald Seitz is the only individual on all three boards. He chairs the Bon Secours Health System board. Sr. Eck chairs Bon Secours Ministries and Bon Secours, Inc.

Bon Secours, Inc. exercises reserved powers over Bon Secours Health System and refers decisions requiring canonical approval to Bon Secours Ministries. Bon Secours Ministries names the chair of Bon Secours Health System, while Bon Secours, Inc. names the members of the health system board. The members of Bon Secours, Inc. and Bon Secours Ministries also are invited to meetings regarding significant changes to the health system and are involved in strategic planning.

Sr. Eck said that while every part of the organization has responsibility for Catholic identity, this sponsorship model that separates the sponsor body from the system board has worked well for Bon Secours because it enables one body to focus more on the Catholic identity and related issues and the other to concentrate more on fiduciary and strategic issues. Otherwise, sponsorship concerns could be put on the back burner, she said.

Dual responsibilities
Sr. DeClercq is the liaison between Trinity Health and its sponsor, the Catholic Health Ministries public juridic person. She explained that when the Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit and the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame, Ind., formed Trinity Health and its sponsoring body in 2000, the sponsoring body was a separate entity with between nine and 15 members.

Four of the seven members of Catholic Health Ministries also served on Trinity Health's governing board. Catholic Health Ministries evaluated their experience with that arrangement; they desired to have all Catholic Health Ministries members engaged with the Trinity Health board as members. Catholic Health Ministries petitioned the Vatican for a change in the structure, and the Vatican approved that change in 2009. Now, the same people serve on Catholic Health Ministries and comprise Trinity Health's governing board, which still has between nine and 15 members. It is by virtue of their appointment as members of Catholic Health Ministries that the members become directors of Trinity Health.

Catholic Health Ministries and the Trinity Health board formally separate their meetings, focusing on traditional fiduciary issues during the board meeting and on formation and canonical responsibilities during the Catholic Health Ministries meeting.

Sr. DeClercq said the founding congregations of Trinity Health maintain a close relationship with, and retain influence over, the system under this model through a special section in the Catholic Health Ministries bylaws that outlines the relationship. The congregations can appoint a representative to provide counsel to Catholic Health Ministries and to exercise delineated rights as outlined in the bylaws.

Member representatives
CHRISTUS Health is cosponsored by its two founding congregations: the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio. The sisters carry out their sponsorship through a four-sister group called the Members of CHRISTUS Health. Each congregation appoints two of its sisters to serve on this body. Normally the congregational leader is one of the two representatives.

These Members appoint four directors of the CHRISTUS Health board — all four of whom are sisters. The CHRISTUS Health board currently has 13 members. The Members also attend and participate in board meetings as observers; and the Members hold reserve powers related to adding sponsors, adding other-than-

Catholic entities to the system, changing articles or bylaws, appointing and removing the board chair and board members, approving sales or transfers of large-scale property and approving mergers and consolidations and other high-level changes. Dulle said through the board of directors, the sponsors extend their influence over CHRISTUS Health's regional boards and the system's affiliated ministries both inside and outside of the U.S.

She said communication; education; and alignment of roles, processes, principles and practices have been essential to spreading the mission, values and purpose of the sponsors throughout CHRISTUS Health. Dulle said it is impossible to overemphasize how important it is that sponsors appropriately engage with leaders and associates alike throughout the organization, so everyone can learn about the call to ministry and how to respond.

Dulle noted that Catholic health care sponsorship has been going through a transition period as sponsors move into new models. She said that's why sponsors must be willing to "walk in mystery" and to see where the spirit is leading them when it comes to guiding their ministries into the future. "We need time to reflect and listen to the spirit," she added.

Essential to form leaders
During the discussion, all three panelists echoed the sentiment that choosing the right leaders and ensuring they are formed correctly is a top priority for sponsors.

That's why, Sr. Eck said, the sponsorship agreement for Bon Secours specifies that Bon Secours Ministries has the right to influence how formation occurs and its content. At Trinity Health, Sr. DeClercq weighs in on top system hires as well as potential members of Catholic Health Ministries. During interviews, she's discerning whether candidates seem called and whether they are open to formation.

At all three organizations represented on the panel, sponsors and top leaders participate in formation programs at their own organization and from groups including CHA.

Sr. DeClercq said it's important for the ministry's sponsors and other leaders to be formed in a way that taps deeply into their psyche, that helps them learn about the spiritual aspect of themselves and understand how that connects with their role as sponsors. She said it's typical for sponsors to be deeply moved by the formation experience, and she said there's a hunger for this type of experience among prospective sponsors.


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Donna Troy or call (314) 253-3450.

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

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