BY: SR. BEVERLY McGUIRE, RSM, PhD, and MARY KATHRYN GRANT, PhD
Sr. McGuire is the former executive adviser,
special projects, Catholic Health Association (CHA), St. Louis;
Dr. Grant, CHA's former executive director, ministry leadership
development, is a consultant for Ministry Development Resources,
Michigan City, IN.
People who, in the role of governance, unstintingly
give of their time and expertise to the furtherance of the ministry
are often the unsung heroes of Catholic health care. They are
dedicated, committed, generous, and always willing to go the
extra mile. Preparing for regular board meetings, keeping abreast
of issues and developments in both the general health care sector
and the ministry, serving on committees, raising the sometimes
difficult questions — all are part of the role of the trustee
in Catholic health ministry today.
Sponsors and Trustees
In December 2001, the Catholic Health Association
(CHA), seeking both to learn more about the challenges currently
faced by ministry trustees and to anticipate future needs and
priorities in light of the Ministry Leadership Development Focus
Area of CHA's Strategic Plan, convened two facilitated affinity
groups in St. Louis. One group, for trustees, was designed to
enable them to share their leadership development experiences
and expectations. The second, for sponsors, was designed to
identify their governance expectations and needs, particularly
as sponsorship is increasingly mediated through governance.
Although the groups met separately over two days, they frequently
found themselves discussing similar topics.
Organized by Sr. Beverly McGuire, RSM, PhD, CHA's
former executive adviser of special projects, the two meetings
produced information that should prove enormously helpful in
guiding CHA's contribution to leadership development for this
vital constituency and to other areas of concern.
Nine lay trustees from eight systems participated
in the first affinity group. Eleven women religious from nine
systems met in the second group. When asked their opinion of
the central, overriding concern for the future, trustees and
sponsors gave surprisingly different answers. Sponsors said
their first concern was finances, especially in light of the
current economic environment. Trustees cited the aging of sister-sponsors
and the evolution of sponsorship. However, both groups agreed
that the two issues were major concerns.
Areas of Common Concern
Considerable congruence in the groups' responses
made it possible for the facilitators to discern eight areas
of common concern besides finances and sponsorship evolution.
These, in order of importance, were:
- Defining the future role of the laity
- Providing care for poor persons
- Serving a stronger role in advocacy
- Developing relations with other church ministries and parishes
- Nurturing greater appreciation for the health ministry
- Preparing for possible follow-up issues from the revised
Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care
- Measuring mission and balancing it with survival requirements
- Preparing for the complex ethical issues facing the health
Over the course of the two days, both sponsors
and trustees expressed their conviction that health care is
an essential ministry of the Catholic Church. Both groups endeavored
to identify ways to broadcast this message more widely in the
The trustees' list of concerns included an additional
item: caring for employees, particularly those at lower-income
level. The sponsors' list also included:
- Ensuring equity and promoting justice
- Addressing the challenges to Catholic identity (from both
within and outside the ministry)
- Stewarding scarce resources effectively
- Recapturing, in the midst of increasing complexity, a passion
for the ministry
Both trustees and sponsors acknowledged that
trusteeship had changed dramatically in recent years, with trustees
assuming more and more responsibility in light of the increasing
complexity and demands of the ministry.
The groups engaged in a wide-ranging discussion
of the current environment in order to establish a context for
identifying governance leadership development needs. "As we
look at the changing role of sponsorship, we must also look
at the changing role of the trustee," one of the participating
sponsors said. That notion, coupled with the widely perceived
need for a better understanding of and commitment to the concept
of the common good, undergirded the conversations over both
Steps toward the Future
In outlining steps to be taken, both groups highlighted
- Improve the selection and development of leaders
- Continue the preparation of women and men religious for
both leadership roles and change itself
- Develop criteria for the assessment of board performance
- Continue the refinement of tools for identifying community
- Sustain efforts aimed at maintaining market position to
ensure continued ability to serve
- Maintain open dialogue with bishops
- Sustain advocacy to help shape the future
- Commit to collaboration for the sake of the mission and
the common good
- Continue commitment to developing communication skills
A candid discussion of the countercultural nature
of Catholic health care ministry and its relationship to board
selection and development touched on several interrelated issues.
Participants generally agreed, for example, that ministry discernment
is most often grounded in a set of principles different from
traditional business decision-making principles. Participants
agreed that the principles underlying Catholic health care are:
- A commitment to the common good and to the continuation
of Catholic health care, even in cases where such values might
seem to conflict with the self-interest of a particular organization
- A commitment to persons who are poor and uninsured or underinsured
- A striving to identify and meet unmet community needs
As one participant put it, "People who see it
[the mission of a particular organization] as a ministry will
take us to a different place, to where needs are."
How Can CHA Help?
Participating sponsors and trustees were asked
what value CHA could add to their efforts. Both groups praised
CHA's work in advocacy, ethics, and leadership development.
They asked the association to develop products and services
to complement those already available through systems and to
continue research into sponsorship and governance effectiveness,
including the assessment of newer models.
Participants in both groups urged system CEOs
to provide board development; they urged CHA to continue working
with CEOs to examine and track trends and to facilitate the
identification and sharing of successful practices in board
selection and development. Participants also recommended continued
critical examination of governance and sponsorship structures
to ensure that those structures remain relevant and faithful
to the mission and values of Catholic health care.
In addition, participants identified various
opportunities for trustee involvement with CHA, ranging from
receiving Catholic Health World and Health Progress
to attending possible sessions on trustee leadership development
at such ministry gatherings as the annual Catholic Health Assembly.
Because trustees already have many demands on their time, local
systems and CHA will need to be creative and innovative in devising
ways trustees might take advantage of these opportunities.
Throughout the two days, participants expressed
strong, grateful affirmation of the role trustees play in Catholic
health care. By deploying their experiences and expertise in
the critical role of governance, trustee leaders constitute
an essential plank in the building of a strong and vital ministry
for the future. They help balance the competing demands of mission
and survival; they advance critical questions and challenge
assumptions. In sum, as the term designating their work implies,
they share the role of trusted stewards of an essential
ministry of the church. In fulfilling CHA's vision of ministry,
leadership development for trustees deserves the same attention
and commitment as that of sponsors, executives, and physicians.
Stewarding the Ministry into the Future
Trustees for the ministry — today and into the
future — must be collaborators who challenge sponsors' thinking.
That is what the 11 women religious sponsors gathered at CHA's
December 2001 think tank told us. These sponsors are looking
for trustees who "can help us to be honest." As one sponsor
said, "We cannot simply choose the good old folks who will just
say we are doing a good job." Listening to their dialogue, I
was impressed by the frankness, humility, and willingness to
risk for the future of the ministry that was evident in their
These sponsors are clear about the leadership
needed, particularly on the part of trustees, to steward the
ministry into the future. Trustees must be strategic and critical
thinkers, they said, focusing not just on the ministry's current
reality, but posing critical questions such as, "What is the
future of acute care?" and "How will genetics affect our ministry,
and how do we prepare?"
Governance leaders, as well as executives, must
be team players and fast learners who are open to new ideas.
The sponsors at the think tank also predicted that future ministry
trustees will come from areas of professional expertise different
than traditional backgrounds such as business, banking, law,
and real estate. These sponsors will look to sectors such as
the media, high tech, and quality assurance for trustees with
the needed skill sets.
Not surprisingly, their discussion of governance
led them to questions about the future of sponsorship: What
is the changing role of sponsorship? What is the relationship
of congregations to the institutional ministries of the church?
What have we learned to date from our experience of cosponsorship?
Some participants acknowledged that congregations don't have
a unified approach to discussing sponsorship possibilities for
the future. Even within a congregation there may be separate
discussions occurring about future sponsorship of the various
ministries of that congregation. "We should not have the same
conversations five times," one participant said, "but we do."
Throughout the December think tank, the sponsor
participants returned several times to the questions, "Are we
an essential ministry of the Church? And do we believe that
we are an essential ministry of the Church?" These questions,
and concerns about the future of sponsorship, point to a new
project underway at CHA. The goal of this initiative is to ensure
a vital future for sponsored works — apostolates and ministries,
within the church in the United States, with a particular attention
to the ministry of health care. In this multiphase project,
the "ministry gathered" will explore the theology of sponsorship,
review current canonical models, identify alternative models,
and ensure that there are resources necessary to support sponsorship
today and into the future. This project seeks to integrate or
ground sponsorship within the church.
The first phase of the project will produce a
clear articulation of an integrated theology of sponsorship
and its implications. We are fortunate in this endeavor to be
joined by Sr. Sharon Euart, RSM, who is coordinating the various
activities that will lead to a written document of this theology
of sponsored works. Sr. Euart and a team of staff members at
CHA are presently coordinating the first convening of a panel
of recognized theologians (including three bishops) who, in
dialogue, will begin to articulate this theology. Simultaneously,
Sr. Euart and others are gathering the work of individuals and
congregations who are already thinking, reflecting, and writing
Listening to the dialogue among the sponsors
present at the think tank, I was heartened by the sentiments
expressed. These sponsors — and the trustees who met in a similar
forum the previous day — spoke about a willingness to let go of
the old and move in new directions, to take risks for the sake
of those served by the ministry, and to re-ignite the passion
for the healing mission. Like the sponsors and trustees we will
need for the future, these are people who diligently ask, "What
is the right thing to do so the healing mission of Jesus may
continue in our world?"
— Sr. Margaret Mary Kopish, ASC,
Senior director, sponsor services, Catholic Health
Association, St. Louis.
Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.