Collaborative Governance Helps Congregations Carry On

By Stockman, Dan | National Catholic Reporter, April 20, 2018 | Go to article overview

Collaborative Governance Helps Congregations Carry On


Stockman, Dan, National Catholic Reporter


In 2013, Sr. Janice Bader, a Sister of the Most Precious Blood and then executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office, noticed more congregations across the United States in need of financial and leadership assistance than there were congregations able to provide it.

Her own was one of them. Within a year, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood would stop pursuing new members because it had been so long since anyone had made final profession. The sisters Were in the process of selling most of their motherhouse and their infirmary, which became senior apartments and a skilled nursing home, respectively. The sisters who had been living in the motherhouse are now tenants of the apartments, and about half of the nursing home residents are sisters.

There was no more denying that completion--when the last sister dies and the mission ends--was in the community's future, said Bader, now president of the community And as the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O'Fallon, Missouri, just west of St. Louis, were facing the future, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, about 20 minutes east in Bridgeton, Missouri, were asking for help. The Precious Blood sisters knew they couldn't solve their neighbors' problems for them, but they also knew both communities would be better off if they faced the issues together.

The Franciscan Sisters of Mary had stopped pursuing new members in 2001. They sold their convent in 2011, and a majority of the sisters moved to a retirement community The majority are unable to work because of advancing age.

"We have a chapter coming up in 2019, and we're anticipating the current leadership team is the last one," said President Sr. Susan Scholl. "We'll probably do an extension for one year to work on the transition.... It's coming close to the end."

Bader said that when the partnership was proposed in 2013, covenant relationships--where two communities essentially merge but keep their separate identities in the eyes of the church--seemed to be the only option, but it did not seem to be a good one: It would only temporarily address the leadership question and would mean one community would essentially subsume the other, even if they remained technically separate.

The two communities consulted with the Resource Center for Religious Institutes and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland, then president-elect of LCWR, suggested the communities talk to Presentation of Mary Sr. Kelly Connors, a canon lawyer who focuses on governance issues. Connors studied and worked with Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Fr. Frank Morrisey, who had been working with Canadian congregations facing completion.

"We said to her that we were trying to put together some model that's not exactly a covenant," Scholl said. "She said, 'Let me go think about it' and came back with a very early, simple draft of how it might look."

The model Connors created in 2013, known now as collaborative governance, focuses on the civil corporations of the congregations involved. Every congregation has two identities: the entity recognized by the church under canon law and the nonprofit corporation recognized by the government.

Collaborative governance has the civil corporations from the two communities create a third corporation, which handles insurance, human resources, property management, legal issues, and all the other tasks the congregation requires as well as any management tasks needed for sponsored ministries. The congregation's leadership is then free to focus on spiritual issues.

The religious congregations appoint representatives to the civil corporation's shared board and pay the corporation for whatever services it supplies.

In the future, when no one from the community is able to serve on the collaborative corporation's board, they can appoint a vowed religious from outside the community as their representative. …

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