Visionary Women: Addressing Needs and Responding
By S. Georgia Kitt
The following article is a continuation in our series featuring Sisters of Charity who have responded to the current needs of the times and passed them on when the timing was right. The following article features S. Patmarie Bernard and Villa Therese Catholic Clinic in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Villa Therese Catholic Clinic had its beginnings in 1937 when Santa Fe Archbishop Rudolph Gerken saw a need for a clinic to be built to serve the health care needs of the underserved poor. The clinic was built on the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral property. First known as the Catholic Clinic, doctors, dentists, nurses and paramedical professionals volunteered their services over the years making outreach possible. The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, the Medical Mission Sisters and the Handmaids of the Precious Blood from New Mexico have provided administrative leadership to the successful project.
Eighty-five years later, we look at one Sister of Charity’s experience, a faith journey of being led more than 40 years ago, a fit for the vocational gifts and skills she brought with her. S. Patmarie happened to be visiting the administrative offices of S. Celestia Koebel, St. Joseph Hospital, Albuquerque, when co-member Shirley Le Blanc (volunteering that day) received a request for a Sister director for Villa Therese Catholic Clinic; the Handmaids of the Precious Blood were being called back to their Motherhouse. Those who would be the deciders for the position also happened to be present – Leadership Council member S. Jean Miller (visiting from Cincinnati) and S. Celestia, who was the SC Western Province representative in the diocese. It was a true Vatican II moment as S. Patmarie looks back.
She had been ministering in New Mexico as a medical technologist, licensed nurse and most recently as a nurse educator. Had God been preparing her for this task?
In June 1981, S. Patmarie began her ministry as executive director of the clinic. Her med tech background prepared her to now set up simple diagnostic lab procedures; her nursing experience and management at St. Joseph Hospital in Albuquerque enabled her to design clinical protocols and job descriptions. In light of the needs and other existing agencies, the main medical outreach was now directed toward health needs of children, with well and sick child care, and adult clinical services in eye, foot and dental care. It was a challenge offered to S. Patmarie and one she accepted with trust in God’s ongoing, provident care. What she lacked she was able to receive from co-member (now Sister) Shirley Le Blanc who set up a sound budget and taught her basic accounting principles; eventually this led to computer literacy and grant writing. All of this became part of the life of S. Patmarie for 23 years (1981-2004) where the clinic served approximately 6,000 patients per year.
Villa Therese Catholic Clinic continues today, meeting medical needs of the very poor. The clinic will be moving to another facility in October 2022 in the Hopewell neighborhood where many of those benefitting from the services provided now live; the name will remain the same. Several lay directors have served the clinic since S. Patmarie returned to live at the Motherhouse in Cincinnati. They will be celebrating their 85th anniversary this year, a true tribute to the religious, lay Catholics and benefactors who have contributed their services and finances to this most necessary health care ministry in New Mexico. Our own Sisters of Charity, namely Sisters Mary Isidore Linden, Frances Loretto Lopez and Philip Neri MacGinnis, served the clinic when it first opened in 1937.
S. Patmarie maintains many ongoing friendships with colleagues, clients, families and religious with whom she shares memories through the time she ministered at Villa Therese. She happily acknowledges that the poor have taught her generosity, unconditional love, courage, sacrifice, risk, simplicity and forgiveness. The many volunteers, board members and generous benefactors have also taught S. Patmarie sacrifice, generosity, compassion, openness, advocacy, mercy and great love. S. Patmarie would say that the some of the ‘goods’ she carries from her experience at Villa Therese Catholic Clinic reside in the ongoing relationships with moms and children; some continue now as they grow into adulthood and become ‘grandmoms.’ She also values the medical gifts and friendships with other Sisters who volunteered their services, including Sisters Peggy Deneweth and Janet Gildea. New Mexico’s respect for multiple cultures, including Hispanic and Native American spirituality, along with her own Celtic background, have definitely enriched S. Patmarie’s work in the Southwest and her life. One clinic volunteer shared, “Under S. Pat’s direction this clinic is a place where medical miracles happen all the time.”