September 8, 2022
The following story appeared in the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland's 2021 annual report: 25 Years of Partnership and Authenticity.
Collaboration with Catholic Sisters - Past, Present & Future
With a more than 40-year history of supporting sisters through the work of the Saint Ann Foundation, SOCF Cleveland is investing in building connections among sisters in a variety of ways, including through congregational collaboration and mission formation among lay professionals and young adults.
As sister congregations and ministries change, we are committed to finding new approaches to carrying forward gospel-inspired service through innovative approaches in the model of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, whose mission we are privileged to advance.
This program area continues to evolve, but its goal remains: To support Catholic sisters and their ministries in Northeast Ohio to meet the needs of God’s most vulnerable people.
Read on to see the fruitful potential of collaboration through our past and into the future.
THEN: COLLABORATION AMONG CONGREGATIONS
Across Northeast Ohio, Catholic sister ministries have provided critical service for decades. Sisters and their ministries continue to respond to the needs of the community. However, as sisters age and their numbers decline they have embraced collaboration both across congregations and with lay partners. Over the last 25 years, SOCF Cleveland has worked alongside congregations to build partnerships and maximize available
resources to meet the needs of the times.
Inspired by the collaborative example set by Regina Health Center, which brought together congregations across the region to create a long-term care home for aging religious, SOCF Cleveland launched the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative (CMI) in 2002. In Cleveland, a series of CMI conferences and workshops prompted sisters from different congregations to better recognize diverse needs and collaboratively launch new ministries, including The Collaborative to End Human Trafficking and Collinwood Neighborhood Catholic Ministries. CMI demonstrated the sustaining power of collaboration among congregations, and it opened doors to discussion about how to develop a new generation of ministry leadership.
NOW: CONNECTING WITH MISSION-MINDED YOUNG LEADERS
Through focus groups and conversation, SOCF Cleveland uncovered a particular opportunity to connect with the lay community, especially young adults, who felt called to serve in leadership roles in ministries that emphasized social justice and spirituality. Following the success of intercongregational collaboration in CMI, SOCF Cleveland built on its model by creating connections between Catholic sisters and these young adults. This opportunity for intergenerational collaboration and knowledge-sharing launched in 2016, called the Generative Spirit initiative.
Together with support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, SOCF Cleveland launched Generative Spirit in 2016. The initiative is focused on forming the next generation of lay people who understand and follow the model of Catholic sisters to become leaders in service and ministry for our cities, country and the world.
Building relationships with the next generation is a capacity—just like collaboration—and requires an openness to learn new skills, share knowledge and practice, through mentorship, internships, and dialogue. Women religious do this informally, but a more concerted effort is required, particularly to overcome challenges related to differences in age, ethnic diversity, and the social and economic realities of today.
Generative Spirit programming seeks to create more opportunities to engage young adults outside of traditional Catholic networks. In this way, Generative Spirit began to create a community of college students, young adults in ministry and lay nonprofit professionals to work in partnership with sisters.
The Generative Spirit initiative launched several collaborative programs, including two cohorts of the Ministry Leadership Program, which paired young adult employees at sister-sponsored schools or mission-centered organizations with sister companions. Additionally, the Generative Spirit grant opportunity awarded more than 20 grants to support new partners who share the goals of Generative Spirit.
We learned through Generative Spirit conversations and questions that “gospel-inspired service” is highly valued among lay people in ministry, and sisters have modeled this work over generations.
We must now consider how to support lay people and organizations to sustainably carry forward this service model, without losing the history and context of how sisters have historically answered the call.
NEXT: PRESERVING THE PAST TO INFORM THE FUTURE
As the number of sisters in Northeast Ohio and the United States decline, there is a need to keep the mission, charism and history of sisters alive in our communities. As congregations shrink in size, they are struggling to balance needs of aging and fewer members with other congregational issues, including managing and planning for the preservation of their archives. Interviews of 15 congregations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and
Kentucky found that:
- 80 percent of congregations have less than 100 members
- 33 percent have archives in jeopardy due to lack of storage space or too few members to manage them
- 20 percent have professional archivists
Congregations need collaborative solutions to ensure their history is not lost and that their mission and charisms are passed on to future generations. The archives of women religious have been carefully managed throughout decades as repositories of rich resources, which provide historical context to their past service while also helping to inform future works. Given the rapid aging of congregations, there is an urgency to begin a process to plan for a collaborative archives and heritage space; otherwise, we risk losing these valuable sources of history and legacy.
Through 2021, SOCF facilitated connections and dialogue to establish the Women Religious Archives Collaborative. The collaborative will include a physical space that will serve as a permanent repository for the archives of women religious in Northeast Ohio and surrounding regions, as well as a dynamic space open to the public for research and programming. Currently, invitations to join the collaborative space have been made to congregations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, but there is not a geographic requirement. Congregations are welcome to participate based on their unique needs. Some may need this space to house their total collection; others may already have permanently housed collections or plans toward that end but could contribute or loan pieces of their collection to demonstrate their contributions in ministry and service.
“The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland has provided remarkable support to sister-led projects and believes in supporting initiatives that are mission-driven and aim to serve individuals who have been marginalized,” said Sr. Susan Durkin, OSU, executive director of the Women Religious Archives Collaborative. “This collaborative will provide a space for education and research so future generations will learn how to create ministries to serve the needs in their time.”
This joint undertaking will honor the past accomplishments of women religious while also inspiring future generations to think, dream and serve in response to the needs and challenges of their time. The center will be one of many linked together under a “virtual roof” as part of a network across the United States with links to colleges, universities, libraries and museums.
"As we continue to uplift the mission of Catholic sisters and their ministries, we must preserve and recognize the history that has brought us to this point," said Margaret Eigsti, senior program officer for Catholic sisters at SOCF Cleveland. "There will always be a hunger to serve others among both lay and religious populations, and this archives collaborative ensures that we can continue learning from the model of the sisters long into the future."