BY: SR. PATRICIA A. ECK, CBS, and THOMAS H. MORRIS, PhD
Sr. Patricia is chair-person, board of directors, and Dr. Morris is vice
president, sponsorship and mission, Bon Secours Health System, Marriottsville,
The Congregation Takes Steps to Ensure That Its Charism Will Flourish in a
"We commit ourselves to walk humbly with our lay sisters and brothers-
mutually sharing our vision of participating in the struggle for a more humane
world." The 1999 General Chapter of the Sisters of Bon Secours, Paris,
France, reaffirmed its commitment to collaborate with co-workers in ministry,
a commitment already exhibited in the various ministries sponsored by the sisters,
especially health care. Since its inception, Bon Secours Health System, Inc.,
(BSHSI), based in Marriottsville, MD, and sponsored by the Sisters of Bon Secours
U.S.A., has-at both the national and local levels-demonstrated this commitment
in governance, management, and operations.
Development of Sponsorship Statement
The primary purpose of the Sisters of Bon Secours is "to make the care
of the sick more beneficial and consoling by taking it out of the hands of mercenaries
and putting it into the hands of religion" (First Constitutions,
Sisters of Bon Secours, 1824). This statement defined the ministry of the congregation
at its inception. Today, the sisters in the United States wish to define the
role and ministry of sponsorship in light of the times in which they are living
and in light of the way they live out their Catholic identity and their relationship
with the Catholic Church.
In 2000, the U.S.A. province initiated a conversation and study regarding the
future of its sponsored ministries and the means through which the sisters could
deepen their commitment to sharing responsibility and leadership with the laity.
One result of that dialogue was the development and unanimous approval in 2002
of a sponsorship statement.
This statement has four dimensions: the ministry of the Sisters of Bon Secours,
a definition of sponsorship, the structural components of the ministry of sponsorship,
and an expression of the sisters' long-term commitment to sponsorship.
The province's sponsorship statement reads as follows:
The mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours is to respond, faithfully and creatively,
to the call to carry forward the healing ministry of Jesus Christ in the name
of the Catholic Church. This ministry to bring "good help" to those
in need finds its unique expression in Bon Secours' charism of compassion,
healing and liberation.
For the Sisters of Bon Secours, sponsorship is the formal relationship between
the Sisters, as expressed in the Bon Secours charism, and the ministry of
the Bon Secours Health System. Co-sponsorship in some local systems extends
this relationship to include other religious congregations. Fidelity, community,
integrity and stewardship characterize this ministry of sponsorship.
Sponsorship ensures integration of the Sisters of Bon Secours' designated
mission interests, provides leadership in governance and assures faithfulness
to the mission and Catholic identity of Bon Secours Health System.
Faithful to the desire to sustain this sponsorship for the present and the
future, the Sisters of Bon Secours invite others to join this sponsorship
ministry in order to promote justice in radical solidarity with people who
are poor, suffering, dying and most in need.1
The Congregation's Ministry
Twelve women came together in Paris in the early 1820s. Their ministry was the
care of the sick in their homes. The twelve lived in the midst of the sick person's
family 24 hours a day for as long as the patient needed their care. Many of
the suffering whom they cared for were dying. These women wished to bring to
the sufferers the message of hope about the redemptive meaning of suffering
and death: God loved them, died for them, and was waiting to welcome them upon
their own death. They decided that the best way to do this was by becoming a
religious congregation. They sought permission to do so from the archbishop
of Paris. Three years later, on January 24, 1824, the members of the group made
their first public vows and received from the archbishop the name of Bon Secours,
"good help." Through this act, the Sisters of Bon Secours recognized
their particular charism, given in order that they might continue Jesus' healing
ministry in the name of the church.
The word charism comes from a Greek word meaning "gift." When
used in a religious context, charism refers to a gift the Holy Spirit gives
to individuals and communities, not for themselves but for the good of others.
This special gift impels some people to respond to unmet needs in society. Their
excitement and enthusiasm draw others to them to help respond to this need.
The charism of Bon Secours is to enter into the suffering of others, bring them
to wholeness, and liberate them from all that prevents this wholeness from happening.
Those who embrace this charism see the Christ in his suffering members and are
the Christ by their healing response to the needs of those who suffer.
Definition of Sponsorship
Within the Catholic Church, formally recognized groups and religious institutes
are able to initiate and maintain apostolic works as part of the ministry of
the church. Apostolic works are services provided to others in order to continue
the ministry of Jesus Christ. The church's Code of Canon Law describes
these groups and religious institutes as "public juridic persons."
Such organizations, by virtue of their role in the church, have authority to
perform certain public ministries, and are held accountable for them. Particular
ministries, although started and maintained by the particular organization,
are part of the larger ministry of the Catholic Church. Resources gained from
the organization's work are used to continue the specific ministry, in service
of the overall ministry of the Catholic Church. The relationship between a public
juridic person and a specific ministerial work is commonly referred to as "sponsorship."
The Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A., as a recognized province of a religious congregation
in the church, have the status of a public juridic person and may, therefore,
initiate and maintain ministries to further the church's work. BSHSI is one
of those ministries. This ministry is carried out by all those involved in BSHSI
through their generous contributions of time and talent to serve those most
in need. Therefore, the Sisters of Bon Secours are the public juridic person
through which BSHSI operates. The province exercises this ministerial responsibility
through Bon Secours, Inc. (BSI), a corporate entity that holds civilly enforceable
powers over BSHSI and through which the province exercises its canonical responsibilities
relating to BSHSI. A representative of BSI serves as BSHSI's full-time chairperson,
overseeing the sponsorship interests. In consultation with BSI and BSHSI's CEO,
the system's chairperson appoints senior vice presidents of sponsorship to provide
support and guidance to the local systems and to serve as partners with BSHSI's
senior vice presidents for operations and local system CEOs. The BSHSI corporate
office also has a Department of Sponsorship and Mission to provide support for
the duties and responsibilities of the senior vice presidents of sponsorship
and local system mission leaders.
The quality of the sponsorship relationship between the Sisters of Bon Secours
U.S.A. and BSHSI is characterized by the congregation's uniqueness and its charism
of compassion, healing, and liberation. All aspects of the BSHSI ministry-delivery
of care, quality of service, relationships with employees and volunteers, the
board's work, engagement with the local community-are filtered through the lens
of this charism.
The ministry of sponsorship also carries with it certain civil responsibilities,
including appointments to the governing bodies of BSHSI and its subsidiaries;
approval of major corporate transactions, such as merger, dissolution, and alienation;
approval of any changes to governing documents, including the clauses that describe
the organization's purpose; appointment of presidents of subsidiary entities;
approval of joint-venture relationships; approval of incurrence of debt above
certain limits or expenditures of funds above certain limits; and approvals
of the strategic plan and annual plan.
The Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A. serve as BSHSI's sponsor. In some local systems,
they share this responsibility with other religious congregations, in a relationship
called "cosponsorship." Although only one of the congregations in
a BSHSI cosponsorship arrangement is designated as the public juridic person
in that local system or facility, the charisms of all the congregations involved
are part of the sponsorship relationship. Sometimes the Sisters of Bon Secours
U.S.A. are invited by another congregation to continue a ministry that the latter
is unable to maintain. In such cases, the Sisters of Bon Secours help keep alive
the spirit and traditions of the founding religious institute.
Structural Components of Sponsorship
The Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A. identify specific mission interests where
particular influence is desired. These mission interests include, but are not
limited to, leadership selection and formation, organizational and clinical
ethics, holistic care, care for people who are dying, pastoral care, care for
people who are poor and marginalized, education, community outreach, and strategic
planning related to human and financial resources.
These mission interests form the background against which the role of governance
is implemented. The governance role ensures that the sponsors have, through
certain "reserved powers," the ability to exert their influence at
the highest levels regarding policies and strategic plans. Reserved powers are
those rights, responsibilities, and decisions that are retained by the sponsors
and may overlap with the mission interests listed above. These powers include
the right to change BSHSI's philosophy, objectives, purposes, and ethical and
religious standards; to amend its articles of incorporation or bylaws; to appoint
board members and other key leaders; to dissolve or liquidate BSHSI; to approve
a merger or consolidation of BSHSI; to approve the conveyance or granting of
mortgages or trust deeds; and to create other liens on any real property assets
An essential function of the sponsorship role of the Sisters of Bon Secours
U.S.A. is the operation of health care facilities and programs that remain faithful
to the underlying call to carry forward the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.
Along with the governance role, the sponsors, through BSHSI's senior vice presidents
of sponsorship, relate to operations through the operations leaders, local system
CEOs, and mission leaders. Through these relationships, the sponsors ensure
that the local system policies, decisions, and strategic plans remain consistent
with BSHSI's overall mission, values, and operating principles. BSHSI lives
out the mission and values by providing holistic compassionate care, seeking
justice in the workplace, and giving attention to community needs with a special
focus on people who are poor, dying, or marginalized. Through its leadership
role in governance and its collaborative role with operations, sponsorship ensures
a living faithfulness to BSHSI's mission and Catholic identity.
BSHSI's health care ministry is shared among the sponsors and all who are part
of the system. All are responsible for BSHSI's life, growth, and commitment
to serve the needs of the local communities. This same vision of shared responsibility
for ministry animates the Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A. as they consider the
ministry of sponsorship both in the present and in the future.
The current model holds the province as the sponsor for BSHSI, with cosponsorship
in some local systems. Other possibilities may arise as the needs of both the
Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A. and BSHSI change. In a desire to create their
future, the province has petitioned the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated
Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to designate a new public juridic person,
called "Bon Secours Ministries," that would serve as BSHSI's sponsor.
In establishing this new public juridic person, the Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A.
have specified its composition and function, thereby creating a structure that
extends the ministry of sponsorship to include others who share the Bon Secours
charism. As the sponsor, Bon Secours Ministries then would be responsible to
the Catholic Church for the ministry of BSHSI.
Justice in Service
No matter what model and processes are developed to implement the BSHSI sponsorship
structure in the future, the Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A., in fidelity to their
charism of compassion, healing, and liberation, are committed to the same outcome-that
justice in service to those most in need, especially those who are poor and
dying, will always be a part of this work, this healing ministry of the Catholic
- "Statement of the Sisters of Bon Secours U.S.A. to the Ongoing Commitment
to Sponsorship of Bon Secours Health System, Inc.," approved by the Sisters
of Bon Secours U.S.A., October 30, 2002. The remainder of this article is
based on the commentary accompanying the sponsorship statement.
Copyright © 2005 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.