Hilton foundation approves next phase in funding Catholic sisters' development

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced Aug. 23 that its board of directors has approved a new five-year strategy for the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative that focuses on sisters' human development work and their role as spiritual and prophetic witnesses through their vocations.

"We are delighted that the board of directors has approved the next phase of our Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative," Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Hilton Foundation, said in a press release. "We have been committed to improving the lives and ministries of Catholic sisters since our inception. In this next phase, we will continue to carry out the wishes of our founder by ensuring sisters can build vitality and enable critical services to reach disadvantaged and vulnerable people."

In the press release and more detailed report, the foundation outlined a vision for 2018-2022 that builds on the strategy undertaken in a first phase, which from 2013 to 2018 invested $105 million on developing "internal capacity" of congregations "to improve membership, leadership and resource outcomes," according to the release.

Grantees have included the African Sisters Education Collaborative-Sister Leadership Development Initiative, which educates women religious from Africa; National Catholic Sisters Week, which annually funds events to bring together young women and Catholic sisters and, as part of the National Catholic Sisters Project, is developing a curriculum about sisters; National Catholic Reporter, which launched and operates Global Sisters Report; and several others.

"Over the past five years, the team has achieved a number of successes, including a significant increase in the number of sisters with post-secondary credentials, who are now prepared to take on expanded ministry and leadership roles, and the beginning of a 'Global Sisterhood,' " the release said.

Noting that Catholic women religious "are uniquely positioned to be recognized as among the most trusted and effective leaders in meeting the global promise to end poverty by 2030 and beyond," a component of the United Nations' sustainable development goals, the new strategy will invest in four key areas:

Sisters' education: This focus includes strengthening the management, formation and professional preparedness of sisters, and their use of data, long-term strategic planning and management to sustain their congregations and the organizations and those they serve

Human development services: Areas of focus include education, food security, health care, human trafficking and youth entrepreneurship to expand services to disadvantaged and vulnerable youth and young adults ages 15-25 and their families.

Knowledge: Improve the practices of congregations and leadership conferences, expand and improve the quality of human development services, and increase collaborative partnerships through research and sharing that information.

Innovation: Focus on new approaches for services and solutions to systemic organizational challenges that will help congregations endure. The report gives examples, such as a sustainable financial model to pool resources for sisters' higher education or, on a program level, to develop new training to teach families how to keep young women in school.

"This new phase will not only build upon key learnings and accomplishments from the first phase, but will also be mindful of the changing landscape for Catholic faith," Sr. Jane Wakahiu, director of the Hilton Foundation's Catholic Sisters Program and a member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Kenya, said in the release. "The Foundation recognizes Catholic sisters are well-positioned to be vital actors and front-line workers to make significant, positive change for people and our planet."

While the time period of the strategy goes through 2022, the report envisions a longer time frame: "The 2030 vision for the Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative is that Catholic sisters become global leaders in sustainable human development grounded in the vitality of their services and spiritual witness."

Conrad N. Hilton established the foundation in 1944 "to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people throughout the world," according to its website." The foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in six priority areas, including Catholic sisters.