OSF Sisters, Diocese of Peoria align for future of Catholic health care ministry
After “great prayer and discernment,” The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis have aligned with the Diocese of Peoria in a new partnership to build on the religious community’s 147-year legacy in health care.
The planned creation of a Diocesan Public Juridic Person was announced on Dec. 19 to “ensure OSF HealthCare continues as a faithful ministry of the Catholic Church and serves all with the greatest care and love,” according to a joint press release.
“The Sisters have always had a special and collaborative working relationship with the bishops of Peoria,” said Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, chairperson of the boards of OSF HealthCare. Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, the first Bishop of Peoria, is considered the co-founder of the religious community.
“At this time in our history,” continued Sister Judith Ann, “it seems to be a natural transition and part of God’s plan for the sponsorship of our health care apostolate to be under the sponsorship of the Diocesan Public Juridic Person.”
The new model is being put in place to address potential future leadership challenges resulting from the small number of Sisters within The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. Known as OSF Healthcare Ministries (Diocesan PJP), the new entity will assume sponsorship and sole corporate membership of the OSF Healthcare System and ensure that it maintains faithful adherence and continuity as a Catholic ministry in the tradition and charism of the Founding Sisters.
The OSF Healthcare Ministries Board will consist of the five OSF Sisters currently serving on The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis Governing Board and the OSF Healthcare System Board, of which Sister Judith Ann serves as chair for both.
Operationally, nothing will change across OSF HealthCare or OSF HealthCare Foundation for employees (known as mission partners), patients, or donors. Establishing the Diocesan PJP is anticipated to be completed by fall of 2024.
BISHOP’S ROLE: “THE BACKSTOP”
“The care of the sick is an important part of the mandate that Christ gave to his disciples,” said Bishop Louis Tylka. “The hard work of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis has resulted in an extraordinary array of health care organizations that reflect and embody the care of the Church and the love of Christ for the sick.”
OSF HealthCare, founded by the Sisters and headquartered in Peoria, has 16 hospitals throughout Illinois and Michigan. It employs nearly 24,000 mission partners across more than 150 locations; has two colleges of nursing; and operates OSF Home Care Services, an extensive network of home health and hospice services.
Bishop Tylka said that establishing the Diocesan PJP within the Diocese of Peoria is “strategic” since OSF primarily serves the 26 counties in this diocese, and both the Sisters’ motherhouse and OSF Ministry Headquarters are located in or near Peoria.
“As bishop of the Diocese of Peoria,” said Bishop Tylka, “I am committed to play a significant role in continuing their dedicated work as a way of assuring the Good News of Christ through their example.”
He described his role in the new entity as “the backstop.”
“The Public Juridic Person becomes the sponsor of OSF HealthCare,” he said. “The Sisters are still going to be running the system as the board of the (PJP). My job is simply to guarantee — to be the backstop — that if or when others needed to come and be put on the Board in order to maintain the mission and ministry of OSF HealthCare, I would be the one responsible for making sure that continues.
“This is really a new opportunity,” continued Bishop Tylka, “for us to just guarantee that their legacy and the legacy of Jesus’s ministry of healing others continues in the way that you know it.”
THE SISTERS’ MISSION CONTINUES
For Bob Sehring, chief executive officer of OSF HealthCare, the move — like everything the Sisters do — is about the mission.
“It’s the culture of OSF that’s always been different than any other organization that we’ve been part of,” said Sehring. “The difference really is the Sisters. And so it’s that opportunity to provide the long-term governance from the Sisters being engaged with OSF HealthCare, as they have for 147 years.”
Sister Judith Ann called the Diocesan PJP “the best possible solution” and “what God is asking of our Religious Community.”
“I feel much at peace and have a grateful heart that our Sisters ministry in Catholic healthcare will continue for decades to come,” she said.