By JULIE MINDA
St. Louis-based SSM Health Care has transitioned from sponsorship by its
founding congregation, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, to sponsorship by a
public juridic person.
The new body, called SSM Health Ministries, assumed sponsorship
responsibilities Nov. 16. The group includes three Franciscan Sisters of Mary
and three lay members. SSM Health Ministries members initially will serve
staggered terms of one, two or three years, but will be eligible for
reappointment for up to two additional, three-year terms after their initial
SSM Health Ministries members, from left to right, are Sr. Rose Mary Dowling, FSM, president of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary congregation; Thomas E. Hilton, director for Anders Minkler Huber and Helm and president of the board of Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis; Sr. Sandra Schwartz, FSM, a member of the congregation's leadership team; Jennifer Grantham Stein, a board member of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Madison, Wis.; Thomas M. Gunn, president of the Gunn Group, a St. Louis-based marketing consulting firm; and Sr. Susan Scholl, FSM, a member of the congregation's leadership team.
The leadership team of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary selects the members of
SSM Health Ministries. The members of that public juridic person also serve on
the board of SSM Health Care, an 18-hospital system spanning four states. SSM
Health Care's board can have between five and 18 members. SSM Health Ministries
can have between five and 12 members.
As Catholic Health World went to press, SSM Health Ministries had planned to
select a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer at a Dec. 2
SSM Health Ministries is responsible for ensuring SSM Health Care retains its
Catholic identity and values, according to the Franciscan Sisters of Mary's
leadership team. The public juridic person also is the health system's liaison
to the Vatican. According to Sr. Rose Mary Dowling, FSM, president of the
Franciscan Sisters of
Mary, the sisters undertook this transition because they understand that the
congregation is "coming to completion — we are very conscious that we are coming
to an end, and we are doing what we need to do to pass on our sponsored
ministries to others." There are 89 congregation members in the U.S., and no one
has joined the congregation in about 35 years. The new sponsor model allows for
lay involvement in health ministry sponsorship. The congregation also is
preparing separately to transition sponsorship of a home for single teen mothers
and their babies and a drop-in center for women in crisis.
Sr. Dowling said the congregation has been laying the groundwork for the
transition to lay involvement in the ministry since around 1975, when it began
"systemically and systematically bringing the mission of the Franciscan Sisters
of Mary" to colleagues throughout SSM Health Care. It has been doing so through
orientation activities and by incorporating mission-based criteria into
colleagues' evaluations, for instance. Sr. Dowling said congregation members
feel comfortable with the transition to greater lay involvement in sponsorship
because they see that people throughout SSM Health Care have "picked up" the
mission and have a passion for carrying on the sisters' legacy.
The Franciscan Sisters of Mary's leadership team, which now is made up of
four sisters, had been SSM Health Care's sponsor. That sponsor body applied in
June 2012 to the Vatican for approval to transition to a public juridic person
model. They received that approval in November 2012, but waited until 2013 to
change sponsorship models because they needed time to plan for the transition.
They chose Nov. 16 for the sponsorship change to coincide with the 141st
anniversary of the arrival in St. Louis of the foundress of the Franciscan
Sisters of Mary congregation. Three of the four leadership team members now
serve on the public juridic person body.
The SSM Health Ministries members — both the women religious and the lay
members — participate in a formation program that includes meetings, readings,
videos and reflections on the Franciscan Sisters of Mary's heritage, the sponsor
role, the Catholic health care tradition and the Ethical and Religious
Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
Sr. Dowling said through the formation program, the congregation will give
the new sponsors insight into their roles, including the need to navigate the
tension between testing the status quo and holding the line on Catholic mission
and values. She said the sisters "have had practice holding that tension between
being prophetic and upholding tradition," and lay sponsors will have to learn to
do this as well. She said the sisters have learned to be comfortable with making
difficult decisions and saying things that people may not want to hear. Founders
of the congregation often "got into trouble" by doing the right things, even
though their decisions may have been unpopular at the time, Sr. Dowling
"The main challenge will be helping (the new sponsors) to learn the culture
that makes us distinctive," she said.
Sr. Dowling said the Franciscan Sisters of Mary have mixed emotions about the
transition. While they are gratified by the lay sponsors' dedication to the
ministry, "there's a sadness because this ministry is an intimate part of who we
"We love the mission dearly, and we love the people" in the ministry, she
Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association
of the United States
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