Bridget Deegan-Krause, BCC, spent several years as a consultant to Catholic healthcare systems before forming Leadership Formation Partners, which offers accessible and affordable technology-driven formation programs for Catholic healthcare leaders. She and her business partner, Beth McPherson, run a nine-session program, Mission: Day by Day, a cohort model which blends in-person with web-based reflection. Eight systems throughout the United States have multiple cohorts enrolled in the program.
Q. When was your last conventional chaplain job, and why did you leave it?
A. I don’t know if any chaplain has a conventional job anymore — we are pulled in multiple directions and called to new settings. My work as a full-time chaplain in an organizational setting ended the year my daughter was born — 2004. My husband and I weighed the alternatives and found that with some adjustments we could do without one income long enough for me to be home for a while. I know not everybody has that opportunity, so I appreciate that.
Really, hospice spoiled me. Once one works in the open air, with no fluorescent lights, it is hard to go back.
Q. Were there in-between steps before forming your company?
A. Yes. And NACC was part of it. I was on the Board of Directors, so I still had a professional calling where I could express my gifts and build my professional network. As an NACC leader, I spoke to CHA on the future of chaplaincy, which led to some important connections, including meeting the talented Beth McPherson, who would eventually become my business partner.
For several years, then, I worked as a consultant with a large Catholic health system. I was their go-to gal for ministry formation. They were paying me so much money that I had to be official — I had to form an LLC, get insurance, meet with a lawyer. And I had to demonstrate what I was providing and how I did it, how to write a proposal, how to deal with a client. I could have the greatest idea in the world, but it didn’t matter, if the client wasn’t ready for it.
Then there was a merger, and contractors were let go. But the Holy Spirit was at work. Beth McPherson had recently begun independent consulting work, and a common mentor suggested the two of us get together. She said, “I want to do what you’re doing,” and I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” But Beth has an MBA and a head for building things; I have theological training, I’m a detail person, and good with technology. We realized that as a dynamic duo we could get a lot done.
Q. How does your partnership work?
A. She lives in Long Beach (CA), and I in Detroit. We both work from our homes. We text and email daily, and talk a couple times a week, often with a Google doc open in front of us. We are together in person every several weeks or so and make sure to have our time well-planned and full of joyful celebration and relationship building.
Earlier, we were already providing a variety of specialized contractual consulting and facilitation services. But we realized that in order to really make an impact, we needed an infrastructure. And this would take research, hard work, and, of course, money.
Two and a half years in, we have recouped our initial investment and are paying ourselves, along with the handful of consultants and contractual workers that keep the LFP boat afloat. We are looking to expand our formation product offerings. This is growth, and it feels good.
Q. Is there a niche for other chaplains to do something similar to what you’re doing?
A. Chaplains have an important role to play in formation programming and in many cases are an untapped resource within their organizations. We have skills that are essential for meeting the expanding needs of formation — some of us are great facilitators, retreat designers, spiritual directors, and writers.
But our business acumen can be lacking. Some don’t do as well with program administration, or setting expectations, or promoting what they have to offer. But these are skills that can be developed or supplemented with the right partnerships. Chaplains might consider where an entrepreneurial spirit is needed in the settings where they already serve, perhaps designing effective programming with organizational development, employee wellness, and beyond.
I freely use the word “product” now, because we’ve created a product that we deliver and oversee for a client. I was selling myself, but I had to learn to be more specific. I’m learning to talk about the value I can bring.
The big challenge is to understand where one’s gifts and skills are, to learn how to talk about them, and to supplement where one is lacking. It’s essential to seek advice, to get lots of input, to test, and to find partners. Some other chaplains have told me that they’re tired of working for the man, but they still have to put food on the table.
Q. What are the alternatives?
A. Well, there’s no shame in part-time work, and that frees up time for something else. The big piece is to understand where our gifts and skills are. And really listen for the signs of the times. What about employee wellness? Everyone’s talking about it now, and that’s the water we swim in. I’ve met outside vendors making a lot of money on employee wellness.
A mandate now exists in Catholic healthcare for ministry formation, coming from the religious sponsors as well as the Pope himself. That’s a great opportunity. To make formation more widely available, it needs to be affordable and aimed at building local capacity. The best of formation happens within our everyday, within the contingencies of our workplaces, within the communities that share a healing mission.
Q. Besides yourselves, who else does it take to make a business succeed?
A. I have gotten good at saying, “I need help.” A Google or LinkedIn search often reveals someone who has the skills I need or has researched a topic of interest. Also, so much is at my fingertips that supports business development — sample contracts, newsletter templates, inexpensive mailing software, flexible learning management systems.
Coaching has been key, both formal and informal. I have figured out the areas where I am lacking and have sought support. I found myself a writing coach, an operations coach. We pay for the help we need — excellent IT support, graphic design, editing, writing, even cleaning (important when you have a home office).
I save some space in my schedule to provide some spiritual direction, retreat facilitation and formation coaching to individuals and groups. It’s not lucrative, but it is tremendously rewarding and draws upon the greatest of my skills.
Q. And moral support?
A. Yes. I have a spouse who understands and values LFP’s mission, and whose income and flexible job have allowed me to take risks. This is huge.
Beth and I talk a lot about those who “have our backs,” those who are praying for us and cheering us on — lots of women religious, lots of enthusiastic colleagues (many of them NACC chaplains!), and our families. God so has our backs in all this. When things get tough, we remind one another that the fruitfulness of this formation work is so much more important to God than it is to us. This realization gives us courage.
Q. You talk about courage a lot. How is courage part of this?
A. I have had to lay track and create my own path quite often as a woman in the Church. I have been grateful that Catholic institutions, particularly healthcare and academia, have made room for me to be creative. There are days when I wonder what I have gotten myself into. But that is when I prayerfully seek the guidance I need and look to the great shoulders I stand upon in my ministry.
We need to leverage our privilege. In my case, when a job didn’t quite fit, I helped shape the job. Not everyone has the resources to do that. But I dream of the day when I’m bringing in enough money that I could hire people. We’re using certified chaplains now as local facilitators, and they’re perfectly suited. It’s almost hitting me as we’re talking — that’s a thing I can do for my colleagues.
The foundresses of women’s religious communities inspire me. They had smarts and resources and an ability to build. That is what I have been called to do today — to leverage the privilege of education, networks, social and emotional securities of all kinds, and certainly spiritual privilege. Who am I to say no?