Sisters of Providence receive Vatican approval of alternative ministry sponsorship

May 20, 2009


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At the request of the Sisters of Providence, the Vatican has approved an alternative model of sponsorship for Providence Health & Services. On January 1, 2010, two Sisters of Providence and three lay persons will become sponsors of the PH&S health care, education and social service ministries in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana and southern California.

“In doing this, we are ensuring the continuation of our Catholic ministries into the future in a manner consistent with our charism, mission and values,” said Margaret C. Botch, Provincial Superior and Leadership Team Coordinator.

Sponsorship is a formal relationship within the ministry of the Catholic Church. Currently, the sponsors of Providence Health & Services are the Provincial Superior, Council and Treasurer. The new sponsors, all of whom are Catholic, will form Providence Ministries, a Church corporation entrusted with the responsibilityfor ministries of the Church.

The first sponsors are:

  • Anita Butler, SP — provincial treasurer of Mother Joseph Province;
  • Johnny Cox — a pioneer in ethics in theology and health care;
  • Charles (Chuck) Hawley — vice president for public affairs for Providence Health & Services;
  • Barbara Savage, PA  vice president of mission leadership for Providence Health Care, and
  • Barbara Schamber, SP – the first provincial superior of Mother Joseph Province (2000 to 2004) and a Sisters of Providence historian.

The sponsors were selected by the Provincial Superior and Council. “We considered the responsibilities of sponsorship and then looked for a balanced group of individuals who would share our values, complement each other and carry these ministries into the future,” Sister Botch said.

The sponsors will go through an extensive period of formation and will be missioned during a liturgy to be held at Providence Mount St. Vincent, Seattle, sometime in the fall. Since Providence employees cannot serve as sponsors, both Charles Hawley and Barbara Savage will leave their employment with Providence before the change in sponsorship takes effect.

The new sponsors will focus on mission and values oversight for all of the current works of Providence Health & Services. The board of directors of PH&S will continue to be charged with governance.

This change will have very little impact on the day to day operation of PH&S and its facilities. Employees and the people served by Providence will not notice any difference in operations. The Little Company of Mary health care ministries in Southern California will join the Providence hospitals in Burbank and Mission Hills in becoming part of Providence Ministries. Their day to day operations and civil structure will not change.

The Sisters of Providence will continue to be the sponsors of the Providence Pariseau Corporation ministries like Providence Hospitality House and Sojourner Place, which offer transitional housing for women in Seattle, and intercommunity ministries like Transitions in Spokane.

The request to create an alternative sponsorship model began with a recommendation from a special committee charged by the sisters with finding a sustainable model of sponsorship “that will give life to the spirit of our foundresses into the future.” Sister Botch explained, “It is an action taken in light of our current realities, including our commitment to the continuance of Catholic health care, education and social service ministries, our desire to support the call of lay persons to collaborate in ministry sponsorship, the changing environment in health care, and the declining number of sisters available to serve in sponsorship roles.”

Last year, Sister Botch made personal visits to each of the bishops in the dioceses where Providence Health and Services serves, requesting their support of this change to Providence Ministries. She also has personally informed each of them that the Vatican has approved the change.

In recent years, a number of religious institutes in many parts of the world have been faced with similar issues and have been looking at different forms of sponsorship, involving various types of collaboration. To date, some twenty religious institutes have availed themselves of this new possibility in order to provide for the continuation of works previously entrusted to religious congregations.

“The sisters have had numerous conversations about this change and are enthusiastic about its promise for the future in allowing us to continue to provide leadership in collaboration with others,” Sister Botch said. “Creation of Providence Ministries will in no way change the mission of Providence Health & Services to serve the poor and vulnerable. In fact, it will assure the continuance of that mission. We remain committed to and involved in these ministries.”

Sisters of Providence will continue to be influential in activities and decisions in Providence. They may be employed by Providence ministries and serve on their boards, as they do now, although a sister or layperson who is a sponsor will not be an employee of PH&S nor serve on a community board, she added.

“We have come full circle. The ministries that began with our foundress, Blessed Emilie Gamelin, and other lay people in Montreal were then entrusted to our religious community, the Sisters of Providence. Through the years, lay colleagues have worked with us, assuming increasing responsibility for management and governance. Now, Providence Ministries will allow lay people to join religious and clergy in serving as sponsors of these ministries.