Analysis - Sponsorship: With Radical Change Comes Opportunity

March-April 1997


The Lord answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late (Hb2:2-3).

What will Catholic health ministry and, more specifically, sponsorship, look like in the future? A group of leaders, meeting last January at the Catholic Health Association's invitational Sponsorship Forum, boldly confronted the realities that will shape the healthcare system and sponsorship of the health ministry in the twenty-first century and predicted radical changes in religious sponsorship as it has been known.

They envisioned the year 2010—a future in which:

  • Laypersons play a central role in governance and are affirmed as ministers in healthcare. Formation/spirituality programs enhance understanding of the theological foundation and spiritual dimensions of Catholic healthcare, and a national organization might provide curricula, an employment placement bureau, and local programs for laity.
  • Hospitals, which are no longer the centers of healthcare delivery, develop services that focus on meeting needs of families; preventing illness; and ameliorating violence, homelessness, and hunger. Most services are based in the community, and hospitals work with parishes and community and Catholic agencies.
  • Catholic systems are linked across the United States, and sponsorship takes place in the context of alliances.
  • Care is delivered regionally in collaboration with many partners.
  • Catholic sponsors play a prophetic role in transforming societal relationships to create a healthcare system that promotes health, healing, and justice.

Sponsorship Elements
In this context, the group said the ministry is moving toward a time in which sponsorship is characterized by key elements:

  • A corporate commitment (which transcends individual or congregational charisms) to an enduring relationship with the people the ministry serves
  • Formation/spirituality programs for leaders of Catholic healthcare that address the common needs of religious and laity
  • A formally organized way for the ministry to be faithful to the call to be a healing presence in the world and to people in the community
  • Faithfulness to the healing mission of Jesus
  • A national organization for mentoring the laity
  • Acceptance of more than one form of sponsorship
  • The understanding that sponsorship means holding the ministry in trust for the people served, rather than owning the ministry
  • New models in which sponsorship does not involve Church property
  • Expanding ministerial influence of religious congregations, even as their sponsorship role becomes narrower

Stewardship: A Way of Looking at Sponsorship
Sr. Patricia Talone, RSM, PhD, ethics consultant, Mercy Health Corporation of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Bala Cynwyd, PA, suggested "stewardship" as a concept that expresses the full meaning of sponsorship and can illuminate a path toward sponsorship in the twenty-first century.

Stewardship of the health ministry means stewardship of the identity of Catholic healthcare, she said. Stewards must look for descriptors—essential commitments—as they practice ministry stewardship. These descriptors of Catholic identity, which define Catholic health ministry, include:

  • Concern for the common good. According to the Catholic ethic, human dignity is achieved in community with others. From their beginning, Catholic hospitals opened their doors to anyone in the community regardless of religion, Sr. Talone pointed out. This concern for community encourages networking among Catholic healthcare organizations and their interaction with the broader society, she said.
  • Care of the poor. Sr. Talone said Catholic healthcare's special concern for the disadvantaged is rooted in Jesus' mission, in the charisms of religious congregations, and in the immigrant experience of the American Church.
  • Catholic tradition. For sponsors to be able to "ask the right questions," it is necessary for them to be rooted in the Catholic tradition and world view and the symbols and sacraments that "shape us as a community," Sr. Talone insisted. Catholic tradition is a standard and record of the meaning and direction of the Catholic community that provides clarity over time, she noted.
  • A view of Catholic healthcare as an integral expression of Christ's Church. This insight involves seeing healthcare as a ministry of the Church that transcends specific identities (e.g., St. Francis) and charisms, and it requires ongoing dialogue with the clergy, including the hierarchy, she said.
  • Sacramentalism. The sacraments' symbolic activity, Sr. Talone said, impart a deeper meaning to our most mundane actions, such as how we greet patients or treat them in the emergency room. Sacraments demonstrate that Catholic healthcare believes in the importance of the body as a source of God's life for us, she said.

Reacting to Sr. Talone's explication of stewardship, participants cautioned that the descriptors are not exclusive markers that set Catholic healthcare apart from the world. Rather, organizations should build the descriptors into decision-making and conflict-resolution processes, they said.

Achieving the Vision
To achieve this vision of sponsorship as a form of stewardship, religious sponsors need education to help them move, together with the laity, into new roles. Processes that concretize an organization's mission and values through its operations are also needed, said John A. Gallagher, PhD, director of corporate ethics, Holy Cross Health System, South Bend, IN. For example, sponsors must support the laity in assuming responsibility for their areas of operations, eschewing authoritarian, hierarchical relationships.

Today is a "pivotal moment" for leaders to break down barriers between Catholic healthcare and organizations such as Catholic Charities, said Sr. Kathleen Popko, SP, president and CEO, Sisters of Providence Health System, Springfield, MA. "Catholic healthcare can be the initiator of collaborative efforts to meet community needs," added Sr. Christine Riley, SSJ, president, Sisters of St. Joseph of Wheeling (WV).

Rev. William Broussard, executive director, Texas Conference of Catholic Health Facilities, Austin, suggested that healthcare organizations become centers of education to inform parish members and priests about healthcare issues. Rita Raffaele, corporate director mission values, SSM Health Care System, St. Louis, cited the need to educate physicians and other staff about ways to foster healthy communities and handle cultural diversity within the organization and the community.

As the concept of sponsorship moves away from that of an individual apostolate or a congregational ministry, the notion of healthcare as a mission of the Church is what both religious congregations and the laity have in common. According to Gallagher, "This is the time to name more clearly and develop more explicitly the commonality."

A Time of Opportunity
We are in a time of tension between mission and business, of new types of partnerships, shifts in traditional relationships, and challenges to organizations' Catholic identity, participants agreed. The challenge, they said, is in reconciling different views of reality—business, mission, and professional.

"This is an opportunity to influence others, to use our roots," remarked Br. Peter Campbell, CFX, JD, then CHA's vice president of sponsor services. "We can't allow the market-driven imperative to win out," he insisted, pointing to managed care as an example of an endeavor that "can be done in the spirit of the early sisters."

Theological Foundations
Informed by the thinking of forum participants, Sr. Talone and Gallagher will develop a document on the theological foundations of sponsorship. Attendees at a concurrent session at the 82nd Catholic Health Assembly, June 8-11, will critique a draft; the final document will appear in late summer. The document will aid sponsors in continuing the dialogue about the institution of sponsorship itself and, through reflective questions, help sponsors in future decision making.

—Judy Cassidy


At the CHA Sponsorship Forum, John A. Gallagher, PhD, drew on Models of the Church (Doubleday, New York City, 1974) by Rev. Avery Dulles, SJ, to shed light on how health ministry is related to the Catholic Church as a whole.

Two of Fr. Dulles's five models—Church as herald and Church as servant—are most pertinent, Gallagher said. As herald, the Church's involvement in the secular world is defined by fidelity to its "benchmark," which is the word of God. "Mergers and cultural diversity blur sponsorship and Catholic identity," he said, "but the word of God is the source of our vitality and life."

If we understand sponsorship in the context of the Church as servant, "we want to articulate the word of God in a way that is of service to the world," he said. In this view, the Church has the opportunity to imbue the world with values as embodied in Catholic healthcare, which operates on the frontier between the contemporary world and the questions raised by new high-technology treatments, genetic research, and complex business issues.

Reflecting on the relationships between the ministry and the Church must be a process of discovery, rather than a matter of prescribing answers handed down by theologians, Gallagher said. If ecclesiology (the study of the Church and its relation to the world) is approached in this spirit, "we have the real possibility of impacting business and social life in this country," he said.


Copyright © 1997 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Analysis - Sponsorship - With Radical Change Comes Opportunity

Copyright © 1997 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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