Spiritual Reflections

Co-Sponsorship: The Heart of the Matter Through the Lens of ASEC

The ASEC story is due to consistent efforts to attend to key principles essential to the intensive collaboration necessary for effective co-sponsorship.

The African Sisters Education Collaborative is a prime example of the WHY, WHO, and HOW of co-sponsorship. It is an initiative that emerged from POSSIBILITY THINKING in response to acute awareness of a profound need, motivated by passion for mission, and a deep sense of sisterhood. 

The origins of ASEC trace back to late 1980s and early 1990s. Vocations were growing throughout Africa; new institutes were being established and conferences for women religious in various African nations were evolving as central locations for intercongregational collaboration, especially in the areas of initial formation and collective response to urgent needs. Simultaneously, the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome was drawing increased attention of sisters throughout the world to the needs and vast potential of African women religious. 

The moment was ripe for SYNERGY rooted in RELATIONSHIP, the IDENTITY and MISSION of RELIGIOUS LIFE, ORGANIZATIONAL CONNECTIONS and INFLUENCE, COMMITMENT TO COLLABORATION, CLARITY OF VISION, and the AUDACIOUS BELIEF that with the grace of God, an idea conceived through “what if” conversations could spark an educational movement with outreach to ten countries in East, Central, and West Africa: Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Malawi, Zambia and Lesotho. In the years since its inception, ASEC has educated approximately 9000 sisters from 394 distinct congregations as well as other individuals, empowering them as transformative leaders and as a dedicated force for systemic change. 

The ASEC story is due to consistent efforts to attend to key principles essential to the intensive collaboration necessary for effective co-sponsorship. Many of these principles stem from ASEC’s beginnings. 

Nobody can do it alone, but together we can do it! 

Interactions made possible by overlapping involvement by ASEC’s “founders” in three significant religious life organizations focused attention and a desire to participate: the Neylan Commission -an association of Catholic colleges and universities founded by US congregations of women religious; Region 3 of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR); and the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), the worldwide leadership organization for Catholic Sisters. 

Strong commitment to education, shared awareness of the transformational impact of the Sisters’ Formation Movement in meeting spiritual, educational, health care and social service needs in the United States, and a desire to assist African sisters in developing their potential for the sake of mission forged a bond and a common goal at the leadership level of the four congregations and colleges/ universities that ultimately would become the core of ASEC as an organization in its own right. The vision for ASEC was collaborative from the very first moment. 

Be willing to put skin in the game! 

Resources are necessary to launch any ministerial initiative. When the Neylan Commission dissolved, it contributed its remaining resources to ASEC as an affirmation of its educational potential. Each of the sponsoring congregations and higher educational institutions committed to an annual financial contribution of $10,000. These entities are Chestnut Hill College, Marywood University, Neumann University, Rosemount College, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton and the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. 

Leverage your connections and know how! 

There were a number of times in the early years of ASEC that various leaders stepped up to move ASEC forward. Mary Reap, IHM and Carol Jean Vale, SSJ both served in Nylan Commission leadership and brought attention to the compelling outreach possibilities of ASEC. Kathryn Miller, SSJ gave meticulous attention to maintaining minutes and pertinent records. Marcia Sichol, SHCJ helped ASEC receive its first planning grants from the Hilton Fund for Sisters. I was privileged to serve as facilitator for and delegate to UISG gatherings in Rome and Nairobi and was joined at an UISG open space gathering by Geraldine McCarthy, SHCJ and Patricia Kelly, SSJ where we listened to impassioned pleas for assistance with education of sisters by 55 African superiors from various congregations and countries and subsequently prepared a survey to assess specific needs. Carol Jean Vale, SSJ was instrumental in getting a grant from the Connolly Foundation to fund travel of 17 African leaders to a gathering with ASEC counterparts in Philadelphia, where the plans to create the first ASEC computer labs in Kenya and Ghana were formed. Margaret Gannon, IHM used sabbatical time to research the state of distance education in Africa, a step necessary to determine an effective mode of delivery. Dr. Ann R. Henry acquired re-purposed computers from Hewlett Packard for the first ASEC computer lab at the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (AOSK) in Nairobi. 

When it became clear thatfor ASEC to receive large grants to enable access for African sisters to leadership training programs and higher education, Anita Cattafesta, OSF provided access to her congregation’s legal services to assist with the preparation of corporate bylaws and documentation necessary to receive tax exempt status. With this status in place, Marcia Sichol, SHCJ who at this point was serving as a consultant for the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, came to Scranton where I was serving as ASEC’s Executive Director to help write the initial Hilton Grant for $2 million dollars which launched the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI). 

This pattern of leveraging connections and generous sharing of know-how has consistently been continued by countless other religious leaders—African and American along with an increasing number of lay partners resulting in the current flourishing of ASEC with its remarkable outreach and impact. 

Stay close to core values! 

Poets tell us that the power to change the world lies in the human heart. Deeply held values enable committed persons to draw from the heart to impact the world around them. For co-sponsored initiatives to succeed, organizational decisions need to be closely aligned to core values — the values of the heart. 

From the start, the values of collaboration, mutuality, subsidiarity, interculturality, excellence, service and empowerment were central. These values reflect a style of working together that has contributed to the ongoing effectiveness of ASEC’s mission. It is also these values that shape and sustain the capacity of ASEC to further spiritual, relational, formative, transformational and servant leadership for the life of God’s people in Africa as well as the life of the world. 

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