Wisconsin Religious Collaborative Blog: Better Together: Sharing Our Journey
Early on in my work as a consultant with The Metanoia Group at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, I had a very telling conversation with my boss about planning for organizations. The Metanoia Group was principally founded to serve the Development needs of small non-profit organizations, especially Catholic Dioceses, Schools, and Parishes. My work was chiefly in the area of strategic planning.
My conversation with my boss was an effort to delve into the philosophy that guided our work. I was trying to explain my approach to strategic planning and the need to be responsive to changing situations. Tim was convinced that my approach was not strategic but merely reactive and would never serve the needs of our clients. As a new employee and just graduated with a degree in organization development I felt a bit intimidated by his years of experience and his certainty.
Now many years later I recognize that the underlying approach to planning was an effort to foresee, as much as possible, what might confront an organization and to take steps to steer in a particular direction. In working with my own community I quickly realized that when we answered those questionnaires about what ministry we expected to be in in five-year’s time or what community house we would be living in in five-year’s time we were always sincere in making the prediction and almost never right about what actually occurred.
That experience reshaped my own approach to planning. I have watched in recent years how religious congregations have reflected on the things that the natural world, quantum physics, and other more organic processes of the created world have suggested as a different approach. Still, I can hear Tim chiding me about being merely reactive when I’m really hoping that we can be more creative and nimble.
These days I find myself wondering what makes the difference. I think that I have come to realize that you cannot guarantee the steps in a plan nor delineate in great detail how to move forward. What I do know is that the ability to be more than reactive is based in the values that undergird the actions one is to take.
I cannot know with certainty what will come my way today, but I do know that my own reflection and prayer is a continual wrestling with three basic questions: As a group, why do we exist—what is our purpose? What difference do we make in the here and now? What wisdom do we want to hand on to those who live and work with us where we are?
When I have some certainty about needing to stay grounded in the answers to those questions, I can respond to what comes my way with wisdom and grace. I can hold to what my community’s founder said long ago: The need of the times is the will of God!
During an opening discussion at the Resource Center for Religious Institutes conference last Fall, a speaker referred to the following gospel selection (Luke 3:1-3):
Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.
In doing so, he highlighted the idea that the women were supporting and providing for the apostles. He found that particularly relevant as women religious are still today going forth and offering support, stewardship, and ministry. As the speaker said, “Women have always been taking care of things.”
So, as women religious today need to face a changing and uncertain future, they are called to “take care of things,” to provide support for themselves, each other, and those who benefit from their ministry. Sisters must make decisions, develop plans, and take actions to ensure that their legacies live on and all women religious can continue living a meaningful life of purpose and ministry until their final days. The beautiful part is that women religious are absolutely capable and prepared to chart this new course. Sisters have been charting a course their whole lives. From founding congregations, to the evolution of causes and ministries, to new ways of managing congregations, sisters simply get things done.
As we face new challenges ahead, we all—vowed and laity alike—can draw on the strength, history, and perseverance of women religious everywhere. We can stand on the shoulders of those who have made difficult decisions and put their trust in God and each other to find a new way. We can move forward confidently knowing that women religious have been taking care of things all along.
Women religious are called to dedicate their lives to the church, and through a process of learning and experience and commitment, take sacred vows. That calling and the corresponding commitment is a singular, incomparable experience. However, many of the lay staff working with these sisters have experienced their own calling. We don’t commit in the same way, but we share the passion and dedication and hopes and worries that accompany the uncertain and changing future for women religious.
As I interact with many lay staff, I find that each person has a story behind their journey to their role with a religious institute or a deep, caring passion for helping their sisters find ways to manage forward so they can continue with their various ministries. From the lawyer who committed to law school only after discovering she could make a difference for religious institutes, to the finance manager who saw how he could put his many years of corporate experience to use in improving efficiencies and business management so the congregation could continue with their ministry that otherwise would have been discontinued, to the congregation director who comes back day after day with a deep breath and big smile to nudge forward practical and efficient management practices to a hesitating community, these lay staff are inspired and inspiring.
Some years ago, I redirected my career to work with professional associations and nonprofits. In 2017, I earned my Certified Association Executive certification granted through the American Society of Association Executives. I dedicated the rest of my career to working with these mission-driven, volunteer-led, staff-run organizations. Knowing that what I did every day was contributing to the organization’s mission and having the privilege and honor to work with volunteers passionate about that mission made me work harder, try more, and do better.
There came a time when I wasn’t feeling that same enthusiasm and wasn’t feeling particularly inspired by mission. Having moved on and searching for a more inspiring organization, I responded to a posting for a role within a congregation. As I met with the hiring committee of sisters, I felt myself finding a home. These women were so smart, the work they were doing was so important, and I wanted to help!
After the second interview I got a phone call letting me know they were declining to offer me the position because they felt I was overqualified. However, the sister who called me said she might know of something else on the horizon. I thanked her for the opportunity convinced nothing would come of it. Soon after, though, she called back and told me about this new entity called the Wisconsin Religious Collaborative and asked if I might be interested in applying as the executive director. She sent me material to review. With each additional paragraph I grew more and more excited. I just couldn’t believe I could be a part of something like this!
Of course, I applied for the job and met more amazing sisters through the hiring process. I jumped at the offer and dived in immediately, reading everything I could get my hands on and I’ve been loving the work every single day. I truly believe I was called to this role. Too many things had to line up for this to happen to believe it was anything but meant to be. I get to apply all my previous experiences and training to expand on what nine trailblazing sisters started. I am invited into the broader conversation of what will be an evolution of women religious. And I get the honor and privilege to work with these women and many more people, both vowed and laity, who are called to face the future together.
Over the last 10 years, I have attended many of the workshops designed by the conferences that serve the needs of religious congregations. While listening to the input in those early years, I was highly aware that my own province was struggling to face our reality. Finally, in 2011, we acknowledged that “we are moving to completion.”
That acknowledgment freed me to listen differently to the input we received from then on. I became fascinated by the idea of covenanting. However, when I heard Janice Bader, CPPS, then executive director of NRRO, present statistics about the median age of communities reporting to the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), I quickly realized that covenant relationships would not be sustainable. If more than 75% of LCWR communities in the NRRO sample had a median age of 70 or above there would not be enough communities to partner.
“There has to be another way to do this,” I thought. I found myself thinking about what would happen if the communities from my LCWR region (Wisconsin) would band together to create something new. I mentioned to region members my idea that some type of cooperative might help to provide internal management functions if we could just figure out how to structure it.
I realized that to move forward we had to dream together. I invited those who had interest to come to a meeting in October 2015. As a result, five leaders volunteered to form a group to research the possibilities. We were able to get grant funding and spent two years developing the Wisconsin Religious Collaborative. Incorporated in 2018, it has nine member congregations and a lay executive director.
This new beginning gives me energy and spurs creativity in my own leadership. “There has to be another way to do this” has morphed into “There has to be a better way to do this” as my team works with our general leadership to plan the future for our province.
That perspective spills over into work I do with our diocese and other organizations. Each time I enter into a brainstorming session this new outlook allows and encourages creativity. Grounded in reality, it focuses on the possible and leaves out fear and only tried and true methods. It is an organic way of proceeding that taps our experience but also the positive energy of the group. We are small but we still have something to contribute.
As a result of practicing this way of imagining I am more sensitive to what is happening around me, more confident that there are seeds of newness in even the most dire circumstances and more dedicated to the belief that dreaming and working with others is far more fruitful than going it alone. This enables me to let go of pre-conceived notions and to welcome ideas that spark new options for growth. This stance enables me to look at setbacks as opportunities to learn. I must pay attention. It might demand an admission of failure, but it is never the end of the process. Something new could emerge, another member of the team might see a possibility I cannot see. Together we can find a better way.
Pat is provincial of the USA Province of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross and serves as the president of the board for the Wisconsin Religious Collaborative. This blog post was first published by LCWR in the Winter 2020 Occasional Papers.
The Wisconsin Religious Collaborative is a membership organization designed to enable religious institutes to assist collaborate and each other with management and resource needs, ultimately allowing leadership to focus on mission and ministry.
WRC member organizations may assist each other in providing needed internal management services through collaboration sharing of personnel or programs, or through seek and/or sharing the services of outside vendors. This is the first such organization in the United States. The collaboration will be needs-driven and designed to free leadership and members of religious institutes to focus on mission and ministry.
The Collaborative envisions designing and collaborating on such services as assessing management needs, being a clearing house for available resources, sharing management resources, identifying potential resources to meet needs including outsourcing beyond member institutes, and initiating new collaborative ventures.
After many months of exploration and research, WRC was formed in early 2018, and was accepted in the Official Catholic Directory via the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in June 2018. Executive Director Lyn Korte, CAE, was hired in January 2019.
The first six months of 2019 were focused on establishing an infrastructure for the organization and completing in-depth research and discovery into each member organization's needs and strengths. Several programs and projects were identified to meet the biggest needs and leverage strengths across all the communities. The second half of 2019 was focused on developing those programs and continuing to talk to non-member religious institutes to better understand opportunities for expanded collaboration, support, and partnership throughout the region. As we dive into 2020, WRC is focused on development of these programs and services.
More information will be made available on this website and posted within this WRC Blog in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned to learn about the progress of the Collaborative!
Anyone who is interested in learning more about the WRC is invited to reach out to Executive Director, S. Julie Tydrich.