Spiritual Reflections

Sponsorship: A Call to Stewardship and Influence

The influence of our mission and values among the people we serve is invaluable and our stewardship of God’s mercy, compassion, and unconditional love, uncompromising.

A contemporary description of sponsorship of ministries identifies it as “a structured relationship through which the sponsor, in the name of the Church, directs and influences a ministry that meets an apostolic need and furthers the mission of Jesus.” Sponsorship has been and continues to be a means by which religious congregations or their delegates preserve the good works founded and fostered by them throughout time. These ministries exist for a spiritual purpose and serve people who thrive as a result of their stewardship relationship with them. 

At times the concept of sponsorship eludes us because it is not found in either civil or canon law. The concept has evolved primarily within religious congregations since the middle of the 20th century and has been institutionalized by expectations of oversight, leadership, and structure that were fulfilled in the formation of an entity known as the sponsor. In a word, sponsorship is a relationship with a ministry that is mutually supportive. 

Sponsorship is enacted within a framework that is structured and organized through bylaws. These include the purpose of the sponsor, the duty to approve, administer, or alter the vision and mission of the ministry, and the delineation of the reserved powers held by the sponsoring body, such as the approval of Trustees and the significant sale of property, among others. 

In spite of the technical aspects of sponsorship by which a group of people, known as the “corporate member” or “public Juridic person,” act in their leadership role, the true significance of sponsorship is inspired by the Hebrew and New Testament Scriptures that speak to us about a calling or a duty of stewardship. 

“The Call” is a common theme in the Scriptures we pray. The prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the disciples of Jesus, Mary, the first disciple, all experienced the mysterious, life-changing event of a call from God. Admittedly, a call such as the events described in their stories is deeply personal and unique. Ordinary people like us tend to believe that such calls are reserved for prophets and saints. Little do we expect that prophets and saints were once people like us, who just happened to pay attention when they were rocked from the routine of their daily lives. 

We have learned from the study of Scriptural calls that in spite of objections and the flight from responding affirmatively, God consistently reassures those called that God will be with them, standing by to support and inspire. As Sisters, we have all experienced the power of the personal call that led each of us to the IHM Congregation, where we entered into the deep story of our collective call that evolves every day and draws us into a mission where these words of the prophet Isaiah, uttered by Jesus in the snyagogue in Nazareth, define our ministerial work: 

“The spirit of our God is upon me: because the most High has anointed me to bring good news to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison – to proclaim the year of our God’s favor.” 

In decades past, our predecessors heard the cries of those who longed for healing, who needed the gifts of food, shelter, and clothing, and who were held captive by a lack of education and the skills to develop personally and professionally. In response to these needs of people, our predecessors founded and nurtured what today we call our sponsored ministries. 

Those who serve as sponsors might also consider the Parable of the Talents from the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30). A man set out on a long journey and entrusted his considerable assets to several of his workers. When much time had passed, the man returned to find that two of the co-workers had invested his wealth and doubled its worth, while one had languished and had nothing to show for his time and labor. 

It’s important to note that the assets of the man were “on loan” and were invested not for the benefit of the workers but for the owner himself. Furthermore, the amount invested did not really matter; rather, the fact that those who had an already established relationship with him invested what was given to them and enhanced its worth. 

Although this is an over-simplistic analysis of a time-honored parable, it offers a parallel to the meaning of sponsorship. The leadership of the sponsor lightly holds IHM ministries as precious assets wherein people grow better, wiser, freer, less vulnerable, and better equipped to do good in the world. The ministries grow and flourish, nurtured by the unchanging vision of those who have gone before us. 

Many years ago, the IHM Sisters agreed that for us sponsorship in itself is a ministry. We attentively adhere to bylaws requirements for attending meetings and understanding the role of the sponsor. We accept our responsibilities for fiscal oversight and providing prescribed approvals. Furthermore, as a congregation, we realize that the “congregational” sponsorship model will evolve to a new form in order to meet the needs of an aging demographic even as our ministries serve God’s people in the midst of a societal landscape that is politically charged and financially challenging. When all of these imposing realities present concerns about the future of “sponsoring” our cherished ministries, we pause to consider the core principles of this ministry of sponsorship. 

The call to be an influential presence in the world is as real today as it was to the prophets and first disciples. It will always be at the heart of our vocation to lift up the downtrodden, heal the wounds of the sick and broken-hearted, and educate the underserved. By the very nature of who we are and who we strive to be, we cannot be the workers who didn’t steward the assets of the One who called us. In a word, this is the real meaning of our desire to sponsor our cherished ministries – we are called to do so. The influence of our mission and values among the people we serve is invaluable and our stewardship of God’s mercy, compassion, and unconditional love, uncompromising. 

Note: The “definition” of sponsorship found in the first paragraph is taken from the CHA 2021 publication entitled Guide for Sponsors in Catholic Health Care: An explanation of purpose, qualifications, structures, and competencies. 

Sister Mary serves as the president of Marywood University in Scranton, PA.

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