by Patrick, McCruden, D.Bioethics, MTS
Senior Vice President, Mission Integration
CHI St. Vincent
In 1982, my first job in Catholic health care was in a hospice run by the Hawthorne Dominican sisters. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was given a glimpse of Catholic healthcare that was all but extinct. The hospice’s administrator, director of nursing and almost all the nurses were Dominican sisters. From the early times of the church down through the middle of the twentieth century, religious orders cared for the sick and operated hospitals principally with the labor and leadership of the members of the order. These communities of women shared a common tradition and commitment to a vision of healthcare interpreted through the particular charism of their founders and handed down through the formation of new members of the order.
By the time I had my first full time job in Catholic healthcare five years later the hospital where I worked only had one member of the founding order who served as the VP of Mission Effectiveness. This was the new norm. It was accepted wisdom that employees and especially leaders would be “formed” into the vision of the hospital’s founders. In a sense the formation of leaders and staff replaced the formation of novices and sisters. Through these programs the founding orders sought to ensure that the identity of the institution would be maintained and that decisions would be made consistent with the charism of the order.
Today very few catholic hospitals are sponsored by one religious order. Most are part of large health systems and loyalty to a particular order’s charism is now being replaced by loyalty to the values and mission of the new entity. Often these values are articulated in a manner that are translatable to a workforce that is growing increasingly diverse. This seems to me to be a positive development and a movement away from formation analogous to religious formation towards a more dialogical approach seems necessary.
The Canadian communitarian Charles Taylor has argued that human diversity is part of how we are made in the image of the triune God . Truly acknowledging this diversity and recognizing it as a part of God’s plan is therefore fully “Catholic” and transforms the Gospel mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mathew 28:18) from a “unity-through-identity” understanding to a “unity-across-difference” understanding . Thus, we do not have to make physicians, co-workers and leaders into replicas of the amazing women who started these hospitals or close approximations to the same through formation programs in order to be faithful to our Catholic identity. We do have to ensure that our actions as Catholic healthcare are always faithful to a Gospel rooted in agape love.
In our developing relationships with our diverse workforce we must engage in dialogue around the languages and practices that can unite us across our ideological differences. Without doubt there will be practices that the Catholic health system will demand of anyone who wishes to become a part of the ministry including the respect for innocent life, compassion and a willingness to serve the poor. Apart from these essentials there will be a need for dialogue. I feel certain that there will be common themes of reverence, gratitude, forgiveness that cross all cultures and traditions. In faith we believe that in serving the sick and the poor we encounter Christ and this encounter cannot help but be transformative and we need to invite our diverse workforce to encounter this transformation with faith in the Holy Spirit.