It might be an unprecedented opportunity to meet more needs, help more people and increase future growth if leaders of the Racine Dominicans and Lincoln Lutheran collaborate to construct a single faith-based campus on the Siena Center grounds.

The collaborative idea follows more than nine months of discussion between the two entities, according to Dan Risch, CEO of Lincoln Lutheran, a social ministry organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, offering a variety of housing, nutrition, home and community based services, assisted living, and skilled nursing care in Racine County. For 55 years, Lincoln Lutheran has served older adults in the City of Racine.

“Our organization is a service primarily for seniors and we have been looking to create a single site campus in the Racine area. This was already identified by us as a strategic initiative and aligns nicely with the Dominicans due to our conversations about continuing care,” he said. “They have ministries and work in place to help us create a new community.”

If approved, a faith-based campus would provide space for the Racine Dominicans and some of their ministries, including, if possible, the retreat program, as well as headquarters for Lincoln Lutheran’s full continuum of health care.

The Siena Center, which occupies 47 acres along Lake Michigan, is home to 70 sisters and a variety of ministries including the retreat program, which attracts retreatants from throughout the world.

The idea to collaborate stemmed from a study in 2007 by the Racine Dominicans to determine the best and most responsible stewardship of their properties, primarily the Siena Center, said Racine Dominican Sr. Suzanne Noffke, chair, Racine Dominican stewardship study committee.

“The idea was eventually presented that a partnership with a health care entity could benefit both us and a partner as well as the broader Racine community, provided that the health care entity shared our principles and sense of mission, especially to the underprivileged,” said Sr. Suzanne. “For us it would ensure that the Siena Center site would continue into an indefinite future to be used for purposes consonant with our mission and ideals.”

Bringing the two faith-based ministries together would broaden the Racine Dominicans’ outreach to the community and also present the possibility of providing skilled nursing and memory care for the aging sisters on campus.

“We hope that the presence of the Racine Dominicans and our ministries would enrich the ministry of the health care partner,” said Sr. Suzanne. “Lincoln Lutheran was one of several health care entities we considered, and was the one which eventually entered into serious exploration of the possibilities with us.”

While construction plans have yet to be determined, the Dominicans are eager to consider the best approach to deal with the current building and the land in the most responsible way possible. Considerations include renovations, adding new space or building a new structure. Whichever decision is best, the most important facet will be the strong ecumenical community that would respect the faiths of all parties, said Sr. Suzanne.

“The Racine Dominicans would be no less Roman Catholic, and Lincoln Lutheran no less Lutheran,” she said. “We and Lincoln Lutheran have a long history of ecumenical spirit and endeavors.”

The vision of the collaboration team is to create a vibrant community to provide a facility with programs to promote opportunities for lifelong vitality in body, mind and spirit not only for the Racine residents, but for all who come to the campus.

“Residents will be bonded, not necessarily by religion, but certainly by spirituality,” said Sr. Suzanne. “We hope the greatest benefit would be to those to whom we minister.”

The prospect has the support of most of the Racine Dominican sisters, as well as support from the majority of staff and residents of Lincoln Lutheran.

“We have great respect for the ministry of the Racine Dominicans in the community and have often utilized their facility for our leadership retreats,” said Risch. “Our retreats are incredible. We know the sisters are praying for us and we feel that their strong sense of support lends itself quite nicely to establishing community with the sisters. The interaction of staff would greatly increase the moral compass with team members of our organization.”

A decision on the proposed partnership is expected to be made by early 2010.

“The sisters have endorsed this exploration at its inception and at various stages,” said Sr. Suzanne. “And the partnership would not be finalized without the sisters’ endorsement.”