Women of Influence

The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis
by Shelli Dankoff
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

When you look at the organizational chart for OSF HealthCare System, the first thing you notice at the top of the chart is the Church. Directly below that is the Governing Board of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, comprised of five Sisters. Members of the Governing Board are elected every six years during the General Chapter, last held in 2006.

The Governing Board exercises reserved powers over all of the OSF HealthCare boards, and the majority of its members also serve as directors on all of the respective boards. After the Governing Board, you find the board of directors of OSF HealthCare System, and this is the first time you see any layperson’s name listed.

Since 1876, when the first Sisters came to Peoria to establish a hospital, they truly have been women of influence, paving the path to quality healthcare in central Illinois. Along the way, they have stayed true to their calling and the words of their foundress, Mother M. Frances Krasse, to “nurse the sick with the greatest care and love and God’s blessings will be with you.”

Sister Judith Ann Duvall, major superior of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, took a few moments to share her thoughts on how the Sisters influence our community—and to clear up some misconceptions.

Do the Sisters look at themselves as “women of influence,” with influence over how healthcare is delivered in the Peoria area?
In every sense of the word—and that influence is deliberate and intentional. We believe so strongly that our service in healthcare is not a business and should never be operated as solely a business; rather, it is a sacred ministry in the service of human life that God entrusted to us over 134 years ago. This understanding can make a world of difference in how strategic plans are developed and implemented, how precious and limited resources are allocated, how key executives are recruited and hired, how decisions are made, and, so importantly, how we measure not our success but our faithfulness to what God asks of us. We want to be here for the communities entrusted to our care and have the professional and technological resources to meet their healthcare needs in a coordinated, competent, quality and compassionate manner.

Six Sisters sit on the OSF Healthcare System Board of Directors (more than half of the board), and five of the six officer positions are held by Sisters. Do you think the general public would be surprised by how involved the Sisters are in daily operations?
Perhaps, but they shouldn’t be. In the early years of our Sisters’ history, many more were involved in direct, hands-on care in this sacred ministry of caring for the sick, the poor and the dying. It is why they came. That is no less true today. Our Sisters want to have our hands as well as our hearts at the very core of our healthcare ministry. It is our response to God’s love for us today. We live this out today through the exercise of governance, our presence on the board, maintaining the majority of membership on the board and holding key positions. The Governing Board holds key reserved powers that are far more extensive than many organizational structures. This is intentional in order to insure the moral integrity of the ministry and that we stay on track with the mission God entrusted to us, to serve his people “with the greatest care and love” and to turn no one away regardless of race, color, religion or ability to pay.

How do you respond to those who say laypeople are running things and the Sisters are merely figureheads?
That makes me smile. They just don’t know us. We are colorful, diverse, extremely sharp and knowledgeable, highly educated, and strongly committed to what God is asking of us. One of our Sisters held a key position in corporate America before joining us. Several of us have multiple college degrees in areas such as business management, accounting, healthcare administration, nursing and theology. It is a neat combination—what one doesn’t catch, another does!

At the same time, we are smart enough to realize that it takes the whole of our OSF family to truly meet the healthcare needs of the people we serve and God has called into our midst—wonderful, gifted and mission-driven individuals who share our love and commitment to do what is right and good in the service of human life. Yes, our Sisters are at the hub, our hearts at the core, but it is one OSF that makes us strong, effective, committed and empowered to bless our communities with competent compassion.

Do you think women are more or less influential today than they were when Mother Frances Krasse and your other pioneer Sisters first arrived in the United States in 1875, or is it just different?
I believe our early pioneer Sisters made a profound statement and exerted an immense influence on how healthcare ought to be provided, and they did that by literally laying down their lives in the service of those in need. They contracted the communicable diseases of those that others were afraid to care for. They died young because of lack of good nutrition, long hours and little rest. Their love for God made it all possible, and they clearly saw each and every human life as valuable, irreplaceable and sacred. How could that message have been missed by the communities they served? It was the witness of their lives that influenced society that this is the right way human life ought to be cared for.

You look at our Sisters today. We are a small group, not unlike our small handful of founding Sisters, and yet our influence is and should be just as effective. The fundamental witness must be the same. We hold our healthcare system to the highest principle regarding “how human life ought to be cared for” and take that very seriously.

I pose these reflections to women in general and ask, “Why not?” Women of all ages can exert invaluable influence for good, and should. Our sensitivity to the human person, our capacity for giving ourselves in the service of life, our ability to endure physical pain and whatever it takes to bring forth and nourish life, and all that this brings to the exercise of insightful leadership are wonderful qualities that can make our world a better home for the present generation and generations to come. iBi

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