BY: SR. EILEEN WROBLESKI, CSC
A New Tool Examines Mission Integration from a Historical Perspective
Sr. Wrobleski is regional vice president, mission services, Mercy Health
People often have different perspectives on an experience they share in common.
Remember the story of the two men engaged in the same building project? When
asked what they were doing each had his own response. One said, "I'm laying
bricks"; the other said, " I'm building a cathedral." Both were correct, but
each had a different view of the work they were doing. They had different perspectives
on the same reality.
In my 11 years of experience in "mission integration," at both the institutional
and health system levels, I've heard the term and role described many different
ways. As I have reflected on this variety, I've come to the conclusion that
the way one thinks and talks about mission integration depends a great deal
on one's experience in the ministry, one's understanding of it, and the reality
one is trying to influence. Again, it's a matter of perspective.
In this article, I want to suggest that mission integration can be usefully
examined from a historical perspective, over a developmental continuum. By looking
at it historically, we may pick up some clues as to what mission integration
of the future will look like.
What I call the Mission Integration Developmental Continuum has seven phases.
None of the phases is either "right" or "wrong." But by using the continuum
to identify the current phase of mission integration in one's organization,
one can see what the next phase is likely to be.
Phase 1: Sister Presence
Many women religious used to be found in the Catholic health ministry. They
served as administrators, vice presidents, directors of nursing, nurses in staff
positions, head nurses, and supervisors. Sisters held positions in occupational
therapy, pharmacy, radiology, and the business office. It was an era when, in
the opinion of lay employees, the sisters embodied the organization's mission,
philosophy, and values.
The ministry was the sisters' life. Throughout their organizations, they demonstrated
how things were to be done. Should anyone have a question, he or she would simply
ask "Sister" and she would give the answer. For employees, it was an age of
confidence because "Sister" would always know the "right thing to do."
For some lay people, the presence of the women religious was itself a formative
influence because the sisters modeled a certain kind of behavior: dedication
to, and respect and love, for others. Many lay people, learning this behavior
from the sisters, practiced it themselves.
For others, however, the sisters' presence perhaps gave them an excuse for
failing to assume responsibility for their own motives and actions. One simply
did what "Sister" said to do, without having to think much about it. This is
not to say that the sisters were perfect in all they did. Aspects of both their
religious lifestyle and their approach to health care ministry were in time
questioned and changed. Nevertheless, the presence of so many women religious
was a constant reminder of the mission and the way it was to be conducted. For
some people, the mission had little meaning without the sisters. For them, indeed,
it became incomprehensible.
As the number of women religious in Catholic health care organizations began
to dwindle, the ministry entered the second of the seven historical phases.
One should note that organizations tend to proceed through these phases at different
rates. Thus organization X may find itself in, for example, Phase 4 while, at
the same time, organization Y remains in Phase 2. However, no phase is "better"
Phase 2: Philosophy 101
In the second phase, women religious in the ministry come to realize that many
of them are aging and vocations are no longer abundant as before. The day is
coming, they see, when few of them will be found in health care. The sisters
begin to engage employees in discussions about mission integration.
One approach involves conducting a "philosophy day" program in which, over
time, all employees attend sessions in which they review the organization's
philosophy, mission, and values. The organization seeks to help employees apply
these values to their daily work lives.
These efforts are still only occasional and thus a bit superficial. Because,
for some institutions, this is a first attempt to engage employees in such conversations,
many participants may find it difficult sharing at that level. The initial emphasis
is usually on how staff members should treat each other. Unfortunately, some
discussions never get much past advice on being pleasant and courteous. Little
or no follow-up occurs.
Phase 3: Project Focus
In this phase, some sponsors begin experimenting with a new position in their
hospitals: vice president of mission effectiveness (or perhaps mission services
or mission integration; the role has many different names). The position is
intended to be a high-level leadership position; the person holding it oversees
how well the organization's mission and values are actually lived out on a day-to-day
basis. Because it is a new role, the manner in which it develops and is implemented
is usually as varied as the people who occupy it.
Now, in fact, most Catholic health care organizations instituted the "vice
president for mission effectiveness" role some years ago. But the role is understood
in vastly different ways. Some organizations that find themselves in Phase 3
focus more on projects—community outreach, for example—than on the internalization
of mission and values in everyday work. To many people, such projects—particularly
for the medically indigent or underserved—equal mission. It may be the
difficulty of getting one's hands around the concept of "mission integration"
that causes people to think this way. Or it may be caused by the pressure, often
self-imposed, to produce something indicating mission integration. Outreach
projects are usually concrete, with measurable results that can demonstrate
On the positive side, Phase 3 makes us much more conscious of the Catholic
health ministry's vital role in the community and of the importance of reaching
out to the poor. On the less positive side, this way of thinking tends to reinforce
the idea that mission is "out there," rather than inside us. Some might say
that, because mission integration in their organizations occurs through its
clinic for the indigent, it has little to do with staff personally.
Phase 4: Public Proclamation
This phase is perhaps a turning point, although a slight and subtle one. The
organization begins to make a more deliberate effort to incorporate both the
language and the spirit of its mission and values in its documents. Brochures,
newsletters, magazines, and other publications begin to regularly display the
mission statement and core values. Literature of this kind is one way to make
known to everyone who reads it that the organization stands for something special
and has a special calling that makes it different from other organizations.
It publicly proclaims what the organization claims it stands for.
Other documents refer to the organization's mission and values: policies,
job descriptions, performance appraisals, and business plans, for example. The
staff members who produce this literature try to use language consistent with
the values of the organization. In doing so, the writers help raise the mission
awareness of people both outside and inside the organization. However, we should
admit that the effective weaving of mission and values into job descriptions,
performance appraisals, business plans, and other documents remains a constant
struggle. Success in such efforts is inconsistently achieved.
Phase 5: Mission Reflection
What we find in this phase is a movement inward, an effort to consider mission
and values in a more personal way for the individual and the organization. In
Phase 5, the organization applies mission and values more consciously and deliberately
in discussions, behaviors, and decision making. More time is spent reflecting
on the meaning of mission and values in daily work life. The organization is
more reflective in its behavior, interactions, discussions, and decisions.
In its discussions and decision making, the organization challenges itself
in light of the mission and values. It might, for example, question whether
a particular course is really consistent with the mission and values. Some call
this "ethical discernment," whereas others might name it "values-based decision
making." This process may be formal or it may come naturally as part of leadership
discussions. This challenging attitude does not blame or criticize; it is, rather,
a self-questioning, self-challenging process that is a sign of maturity and
health. Just as individuals challenge themselves to grow as they learn new skills
or acquire new knowledge, organizations in this phase challenge themselves to
grow to a new level of insight, commitment, and behavior.
Phase 6: Spiritual Formation
This phase continues the inward journey. In it, the organization develops the
notion of "spirituality of work." Many definitions of this concept exist. For
our purpose here, spirituality of work is the realization that one's role and
contribution to an effort are part of something larger than and beyond oneself.
For most of us in Catholic health ministry, this awareness is related to our
belief in God and our conviction that our work is, at its core, about helping
to bring about the reign of God.
We represent God's presence in our world. We are part of each other and connected
to all with whom we work and serve. The purpose of the organization, described
in its mission and values, is manifested through us. We are not here for ourselves
alone, but for a far greater good. For most of us, spirituality of work is somehow
related to theological or religious beliefs. For others, spirituality may be
related to a humanistic philosophy.
In either case, one must, to come to any realization of spirituality, engage
in some kind of inner work such as reflection, meditation, or prayer.
An organization in this phase will have engaged in, for example, spiritual retreats
for leaders or staff (or both) or mission and mentoring programs, especially
those that provide time for personal reflection on the greater realities. Developing
an organizational spirituality of work is truly a formation activity for those
who participate in it. Those who go through this formative process and take
its challenge seriously begin to stand in the place of the women religious who
once embodied the organization's mission and values.
Phase 7: Spiritual Maturity
In this final phase, spirituality of work matures in the life of staff and
the organization as a whole. A balance exists between the inner work of individuals
and the organization, on one hand, and outreach to the community, on the other.
Inner work continues to occur for both staff members and the organization.
The inner work is accompanied by a developing social consciousness and a genuine
concern for and involvement in the broader community, especially for the poor
and marginalized. The organization's outreach efforts may look similar to those
in Phase 3, but the motivation behind them now comes from within rather than
from external influences. The staff members involved now reach out to others
because those in need are brothers and sisters—not because doing so is "a nice
thing to do," or because it will look good on a social accountability report,
or because one is required to do his or her "fair share." As a result, life
and work have a real sense of purpose and are energizing. In this phase, everyone
involved begins to embody the mission and values. Mission integration is no
longer activities to perform. It is an attitude of mind and heart.
Beyond Phase 7
What will the next phase be? Because this model describes a developmental continuum,
there is no end to the phases that may follow. The next phases depend on one's
imagination, wisdom, and insights. Human development—whether psychological,
spiritual, or intellectual—is potentially never-ending. To find the next phase,
one must simply pay attention to lived experience and the inward journey to
deeper, fuller spiritual growth.
ýn any case, the Mission Integration Developmental Continuum can be a useful
tool in a variety of ways. Employing the historical perspective it provides,
Catholic health care organizations can convey to new employees the reasons why
mission integration is so important to the ministry.
The continuum tool can be used in facilitating discussion. In several instances,
leaders have located their organizations on the continuum and from that point
plotted where their employees might be. It has proved to be a very interesting
exercise. Leaders can use the process to begin to establish mission integration
goals that, being different from outreach projects, inspire personal motivation
and commitment. The continuum is a rich tool with which leaders can describe
their organization's current status, discuss shared beliefs and differences
with colleagues, set goals, and make a commitment to moving to the next step.
The continuum tool can be especially useful for the mission leader. With it,
the mission leader can infer how the organization's staff currently understands
mission integration, and, given that inference, plan mission integration efforts
for the future.
Moreover, the continuum tool is a basically nonthreatening developmental concept.
Those who use it realize that a great variety of perceptions surround mission
integration. No development phase is either "right" or "wrong." The tool offers
several ways of comprehending where an individual, group, or organization might
be on the historical continuum. At the same time, it offers possibilities for
growth and development. Acknowledging an organization's need and desire to expand
its outreach in the community, the tool also invites the organization's staff
members to go deeper into their own spiritual realities and growth potential.
Using the tool, we can begin to realize that our ministry's integration of mission
and values is not out of reach but, rather, deep within each of us.
Copyright © 2003 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.