By Sister Nancy Surma, OSF
In the three years that our former sponsored ministry, Sylvania Franciscan Health, has become part of CHI, I have still had the opportunity to support Mission Integration in what is now CHI Living Communities, the eldercare ministry that provides a continuum of care from independent living through skilled nursing. In that time, the Franciscan Sisters who were Directors of Mission Integration at three of our original facilities moved into other positions. In two of the new facilities that are now part of this CHI ministry, Sisters from other congregations retired. I must admit, my initial feeling was one of dismay, since I knew finding another Sister would be next to impossible. My fears were groundless. In all five locations, I was able to find vibrant, committed, well-educated and creative lay people to step into the role.
I brought the group of the leaders in mission integration and spiritual care within CHI Living Communities together in Sylvania over three days for reflection and sharing. We now number five religious women and nine lay persons. Very few of the group had met any of the others in person, but that was not a hindrance. It was a powerful time to say the least. The atmosphere right from the start was one of trust and deep openness. The group shared at a depth of spirituality that awed me. Ideas flowed on how our ministry can be more effective. Laughter and joy filled the room.
A few days after, I received an email from one of the participants, Aram Haroutunian, the Director of Mission Integration and Chaplain at The Gardens of St. Elizabeth in Denver. What he had to say touched my heart.
“Over the past week, I got to spend three days among monks, and then three days among nuns. [My wife] has said this for years and I will say it here: these folks are amazing. AMAZING. The space they hold for us reassures me. Knowing they are praying en-courages me. Their vision and ingenuity astound me. Their hard work humbles me. Their centered presence stills me. Their appreciation of beauty, literature, and art inspires me. Their hospitality welcomes me. Their love challenges me, reaching out to the other: the stranger, the migrant, the immigrant, the prisoner, the oppressed, the forgotten. Their real-ness and humanity comforts me. Their joy lifts me. And quaffing beers with them relaxes me and makes me smile. I wish everyone – especially younger folks – could see what we see. I know celibacy is not for everyone, but dang, they live a beautiful life. And they’re aging. Younger novices are slow to join their ranks. I hope and pray that changes. For centuries they have played an invaluable role in our world. We need them.”
While I am saddened at the aging of my own community and our gradual withdrawal from active ministry, I take heart in the lay people coming behind us who minister with the same commitment and energy. All of us are called by our baptism to minister in Jesus’ name. Our authority and inspiration come from the same God. My experience with the gathering in Sylvania showed me clearly that our focus on mission and values is in good hands. We need our lay partners in ministry.