Philosophy of Aging: A Future Full of Hope

The Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco belong to the “Greatest Generation,” the “Silent Generation,” and the “Baby Boomers.” A challenge for the families of many in this demographic is identifying the wishes of aging relatives and involving them in decisions about their future. Often there is reluctance to even bring up such topics.

These Sisters, though, are anticipating the future with a sense of curiosity and gratitude. They acknowledge that most are not able to continue the more physically demanding ministries and activities of the past. But they are making decisions about their ownAnchor futures with intention, wondering what the tradeoffs might be: "What new possibilities are there? What is the world asking and needing of us now?"

“This is who we are, this is where we are.”

In 2017 the congregation’s Leadership Team began strategic planning for the future, including Support of Members – encompassing areas such as community relationships, spiritual life, living environments, charism, and ministry.

Employing the Appreciative Inquiry process pioneered by David Cooperrider and others in the 1980s, the Sisters identify what adds value to their lives, what their wishes are, and what they want the future to be. This contrasts with the more common approach of narrowly focusing on a specific problem and finding solutions to that problem.

“Be open to the Spirit in all our life changes.”

A Support of Members team consisting of Sisters and employees began to consider what Support of Members might look like in the future. Team members realized the need to understand what the Sisters want, what is important to them, what they believe, and what the community needs. They interviewed the Sisters to learn each one’s perception of how the community could “live fully into the future.” These were one-on-one interactions, more conversation than interview. The conversations created an environment of openness and candor that persisted throughout the ensuing months and activities.

The interviews revealed an abundance of gratitude and the desire to always be consciously aware that when Sisters are no longer able to actively participate in ministry, they still have an important role in continuing the mission of Sisters of the Presentation. In light of this, a grant foundation was established to provide support to organizations that are engaged in the work of ministries formerly done by the Sisters themselves, such as providing education, food, and other care needs of those made poor or at risk, especially women and children.

“There is so much we can do if we dream about it.”

The Support of Members team composed a Philosophy of Aging. The Philosophy of Aging recognizes that members of the community are on a journey together and remain committed to relationship with and ministry to those made poor; that they are called to be open to the Spirit in all life changes; and that they continue to seek creative ways to fulfill mission and ministry while responding to “the signs of the times.”

Recently the team developed a plan for Holistic Living for All. This recognizes that each Sister is a unique individual who should be valued and supported so she may live her life to its fullest as a member of her community.

“Choices are life-giving.”

The holistic approach stresses dignity, respect, relationships, purposeful living, and self-determination for all. Rather than focusing on why something cannot be done, instead the focus is how might it be done.  For example, instead of receiving care in a medical model that can resemble an assembly line, Sisters are treated as individuals with their own preferences. They are given choices and make collaborative decisions about themselves instead of others making decisions for them, “in their best interest.”

Living life to its fullest requires that we choose how we will live our life. The Sisters continue to offer their gifts and can continue to grow regardless of their age.  This requires being intentional as a community, as Sisters, and as the staff who provide support.

New ideas will continue to arise from the Appreciative Inquiry process, the Philosophy of Aging, and the Holistic Living plan. Already there is a significant benefit in the sense of peace that comes from considering hopes for the future and having a plan that is a path to follow toward those. In the words of one Sister, “Each day we continue to live fully into the future with changing attitudes, new ideas, acceptance, and new possibilities.” Overall, that is done in a reliance on the Holy Spirit and the promises of scripture: “For I know the plans that I have for you, a future full of hope.”
(Jer. 29:11)

Quotes: Individual Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco