More than a century later, Via Christi’s future is still grounded in Sisters’ original mission
In 1889, Mother Frances Streitel, founder of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, walked to city hall in Wichita, Kan., and incorporated St. Francis Hospital as both a ministry and a business to serve the poor and underserved. With faith and little more than $5 in her pocket, Mother Bernard Sheridan led five Sisters of St. Joseph to open Mt. Carmel Hospital in Pittsburg, Kan., in 1903, to care for miners and immigrants.
In October 1995, the two congregations consolidated their healing ministries, CSJ Health System and St. Francis Health Corp., to form Via Christi — Latin for “the way of Christ.” Now Via Christi launches its Vision 2020 strategic plan with the same mission that has been present since the Sisters came to America.
The Sisters were risk takers, says Sister Sherri Marie Kuhn, SSM, senior vice president, Mission Integration for Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita. They came to a new country not speaking the language, yet with a mission to serve those in need. The risk-taking vision and the mission to serve the vulnerable remain with Via Christi today, she says.
What has endured from a century ago, says Sister Sherri Marie, is “the faith and the belief of both congregations in the Gospel message of Christ to serve the poor and vulnerable, the marginalized of society and those whose needs are not being addressed.
“The role of religious women has always been to address those needs and to raise the consciousness of society members to their obligation in meeting these needs.”
Mother Bernard and Mother Frances laid a solid foundation, Sister Sherri says. Those who came after continued laying that foundation “until it permeated everything we do.”
Then the Sisters began to invite other men and women who had these same values to minister with them, she says. One of those is Jay Gilchrist, vice president of Mission Integration at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg. Gilchrist calls himself the first “non-Sister” to hold his position at the hospital.
“My call and my passion are to get out the message that we’re all part of the Mission. We’re in the ministry. We all have a spiritual call,” he says.
Gilchrist explains that the Sisters had the foresight to plan for leadership formation for all staff, knowing that the congregations’ numbers and presence in the ministry would one day dwindle.
What draws people to serve at Via Christi?
“The number one answer I get is to help people, to care for people, to help people get better,” says Gilchrist. “Second is to have meaningful work that makes a difference in the community.”
Sister Marie Veronica Janousek, CSJ, has served in many professional roles since she began as a nurse’s aide in 1952. She retired as vice president of Mission Integration in 2004, is spiritual director at the Congregation of St. Joseph Magnificat Retreat Center in Wichita and serves part time as a staff chaplain at Via Christi Hospitals on Harry and St. Francis.
She calls today’s caregivers “really committed, like our early Sisters. They have their sleeves rolled up. They’re ready for ministry. They want to give the best outcomes. For people who are called to serve in health care and senior services, I really believe this ministry is a vocation. You won’t last long if you come without the zeal and passion for this sacred healing ministry.”
This, in turn, affects how Via Christi staff care for patients and residents.
“Patients want to be treated well, to be acknowledged and respected,” says Gilchrist. “That certainly plays into our Core Value of Human Dignity. The better job we can do of living that, the better experience people are going to have.”