St. Louis — In 2013, Sr. Janice Bader, a Sister of the Most Precious Blood and then executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office, noticed more congregations across the United States in need of financial and leadership assistance than there were congregations able to provide it.
Her own was one of them. Within a year, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood would stop pursuing new members because it had been so long since anyone had made final profession. The sisters were in the process of selling most of their motherhouse and their infirmary, which became senior apartments and a skilled nursing home, respectively. The sisters who had been living in the motherhouse are now tenants of the apartments, and about half of the nursing home residents are sisters.
There was no more denying that completion — when the last sister dies and the mission ends — was in the community's future, said Bader, now president of the community.
And as the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O'Fallon, Missouri, just west of St. Louis, were facing the future, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, about 20 minutes east in Bridgeton, Missouri, were asking for help. The Precious Blood sisters knew they couldn't solve their neighbors' problems for them, but they also knew both communities would be better off if they faced the issues together.
The Franciscan Sisters of Mary had stopped pursuing new members in 2001. They sold their convent in 2011, and a majority of the sisters moved to a retirement community. The majority are unable to work because of advancing age.
"We have a chapter coming up in 2019, and we're anticipating the current leadership team is the last one," said President Sr. Susan Scholl. "We'll probably do an extension for one year to work on the transition. ... It's coming close to the end."
Bader said that when the partnership was proposed in 2013, covenant relationships — where two communities essentially merge but keep their separate identities in the eyes of the church — seemed to be the only option, but it did not seem to be a good one: It would only temporarily address the leadership question and would mean one community would essentially subsume the other, even if they remained technically separate.