Final Say - Finding the Center

November-December 1997


Sr. Rocklage is president and chief executive officer, Sisters of Mercy Health System, St. Louis. This article is adapted from a talk commemorating the formation of SMHS.

When the Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of St. Louis formed the Sisters of Mercy Health System 11 years ago, both business and ministry were driving forces in our decision. To be strong, vibrant, effective stewards—to carry on Jesus' healing mission—we had to recognize, own, and be equally whole in both ministry and business.

Card. Joseph Bernardin addressed this issue well. In a presentation at Fordham University in 1992, he stated: "Catholic colleges and universities, health care institutions, and social service agencies already live with one foot firmly planted in the Catholic Church and the other in our pluralistic society. . . . Indeed, the mixed model of identity should help us minister more effectively in the world."

We are not solely in ministry, nor are we solely in business. These have to be brought together and become one. Although they seem to be opposites, Charles Johnson, in his book Necessary Wisdom,1 suggests looking at things in new ways. He says: "Universally, new ideas take things that before seemed separate, even opposite, and invite us to think in terms of some large, more dynamic whole." This is our task, because we have to find a way to bridge the distance between ministry and business.

Johnson points out that in order to do so, we must not do three things:

  • We cannot say business and ministry are separate and cannot come together.
  • We cannot pretend they are not different, and try to merge them into one.
  • We cannot compromise and find a lowest common denominator in an effort to make everyone happy.

Ministry and business are really two aspects of the same entity, which draws them into a relationship. The challenge is to enter the center that holds ministry and business in appropriate interdependence, to bring the strength and power of good business practices and of ministry together and thus create something new for the sake of Jesus' mission. In the center, we will find the energy and the creativity to hold ministry and business in healthy tension. We must do this to move forward in the ministry.

If business and ministry are not in tension, one of two things has happened:

  • We have forgotten the ministry and are solely business; then we are not who we are.
  • We have ignored sound business practices to do solely ministry. But the only way our ministry can be done is through business—so we would not exist.

We must struggle day in and day out to maintain a dual identity. If we do not do this, we will not be able to address our enduring concerns: to aid the poor, the sick, the uneducated; to relieve misery; and to address its causes.

A New Creation
At Sisters of Mercy Health System, as we look back over the years since we were formed, we think we would receive a passing grade. But we must never rest on our laurels. We must continue to challenge ourselves.

We should continue to be grateful for our stewardship, and continue to be faithful. We must strive for fidelity to the reasons we formed the system and to be wise stewards. But the struggle is not only to remain just, but to be people of peace.

The Quest for Social Justice
Peace is not just a state of equanimity and a lack of unease. In Necessary Wisdom, Johnson defines peace as a commitment to resolving conflicts. There is no permanent state of equanimity; instead we must commit ourselves to resolving conflict, both internal and external.

The bishops' economic pastoral says it another way: "The quest for economic and social justice will always combine hope and realism, and must be renewed by every generation. It involves diagnosing those situations that continue to alienate the world from God's creative love."2

This is what we are trying to do in our faith institution, so that God's creative love will present hopeful alternatives.

To create something new, we have to constantly live in the center, in that healthy tension between hope and realism, ministry and business. This quest for a new creation arises from faith and is sustained by hope. Hope is not naive optimism, but rather the conviction that God is at work in the world. Through this hope we speak to a broken world of God's justice, and God's kindness.

Being faithful to that vision of hope in our discordant society requires us to have courage. That courage comes from a conviction that everything is going to go well. We have a deep faith that God is with us, and an interior joy that comes from knowing we are not, ultimately, responsible. We are not the Messiah. We are ministers.

Joy also comes from our belief that God is faithful, and that our struggle to follow Christ—not our success—is what will bring God's reign of love to the world. We rejoice in the invitation to join in the struggle—to seek justice, to be compassionate, and to reflect mercy, which God gives unconditionally to the world.


  1. Charles M. Johnston, Necessary Wisdom: Meeting the Challenge of a New Cultural Maturity, ICD Press, Seattle, 1991.
  2. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Economic Justice for All," U.S. Catholic Conference, Washington, DC, 1986.


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

Final Say - Finding the Center

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

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