In the spirit of this months’ blog posts medical theme (Lab Coats and Habits & The Origins of Maryknoll’s Medical Missioners: Dr. Paluel J. Flagg), let’s round out the coverage with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners and Maryknoll Affiliates. Whether working with patients on their physical or mental health, the impact of Lay Missioners’ and Affiliates’ medical work, past and present, is important and felt throughout the communities they serve. This mission work aims to not only care for body and mind, but also communicate how much the people matter, too.

Below you will find six Maryknoll Lay Missioner and Maryknoll Affiliate mission stories highlighting some of their medical work in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

They journeyed for a day…: On the 30th of June, the three students and I piled into the back seat of a pickup truck, joining the doctor, two staff members and the driver, as part of the monthly Dhulikhel Hospital Outreach Health Care team serving the primary health care needs of the Bahunipati, Sindupalchok community. The bed of the truck was piled high with a portable surgical table and boxes of dressings, medications, etc. After reaching our destination, we walked a few meters up a hill to reach the Health Centre, and were greeted by two of the local staff and several patients whose arrival had preceded ours. For the students and for myself, this was an orientation to one of six Village Outreach Programs, community satellite centers established by Dhulikhel Hospital, ‘the aim of which is to provide primary health care at the village level and strengthen the community to run the center with the support of DH.’ For the next 5 ½ hours they came without ceasing, 53 clients, mostly women and children, with a variety of health concerns and health needs; six of whom the students were able to assess, treat and advise with regard to phsio. Fortified with only a mini breakfast of rice porridge and Nepali chia (tea), when work ended, we sat down to a feast of daal bhat, tawkari, traditional Nepali food. After dinner, there followed a period of shared camaraderie during which we sat on the balcony of the staff quarters; against a backdrop of varied
Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Dee Barlow in mission
hues of green terraced hills and brillian blue sky emblazoned with snow white clouds. Eleven hours after first arriving at the hospital gate, we were back in Dhulikhel, tired but thankful… for the day, for the opportunity.”

~ MLM Newsletters, Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Dee Barlow, July 2005 – Nepal


Judith Walter of Aurora, Ill. brings her skills as a registered nurse and previous mission experience to her new mission in Kenya, where she plans to work in the healthcare field. ‘My connection to Maryknoll goes back 50 years,’ says Walter, a former Maryknoll Sister, who, after leaving the Congregation,

Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Judy Walter in mission in Kenya

Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Judy Walter in mission in Kenya

served as an independent lay missioner in Bangladesh for 22 years. For the past 14 years she has worked as a nurse case manager for hospice patients in Illinois. ‘I have always remained close to Maryknoll and felt it was time to rejoin as a lay missioner,’ she says, noting that many Maryknoll missioners have inspired her over the years. ‘The Maryknoll spirit continues to inspire me to give my life in service to the poor.’”

~Maryknoll Magazine, March/April 2011, p. 50

Maryknoll Affiliates Erin & Spencer Rickwa, who first met as Salesian lay missioners while working in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, share a bit of their story:

Maryknoll Affiliate Erin Rickwa at an orphanage in Bolivia, 1995

Maryknoll Affiliate Erin Rickwa at an orphanage in Bolivia, 1995

“From our experience in Bolivia, Spencer, a physician, and I, a child welfare social worker, have made mission a regular part of our lives. We had always planned to return to Bolivia, the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, to establish medical care in orphanages. We will be doing short-term mission in Cochabamba from July to November 2012. We will work with the Maryknoll community there and set up a health care program using local resources to sustain our work once we leave. Our goal will be to raise funds, hire a Bolivian nurse for the orphanage, and train the nurse before we leave. Jesus made it clear that we are to give preferential treatment to the poor and marginalized. We must make a conscious decision in our busy lives to make time for them, to seek them out and walk with them.”

~Maryknoll Magazine, January/February 2012, p. 50-51 “Calling Them By Name” by Erin Rickwa

“Treating the traumas and blunting the blows of life is Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kim Nagy. The 31-year-old redhead from Hartford, Conn., spends at least an hour a week with Marvin, Maria and many other members of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Ciudad Delgado, El Salvador. Nagy, a licensed social worker, directs the parish’s mental health program.

Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kim Nagy in mission in El Salvador, 2007

Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kim Nagy in mission in El Salvador, 2007

‘There’s a strong counseling component in social work,’ explains Nagy. ‘Most people here see me as a psychologist; it’s the closest thing they understand to what social work is in the United States.’

It’s all the same to Father David Blanchard, the Carmelite pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, just as long as the parishioners’ mental health needs are being met. ‘Kim has been so successful so quickly,’ says Blanchard. ‘People don’t show up for therapy if they’re not getting better, and let me tell you, they’re showing up.’

According to Blanchard, 80 percent of the 40,000 people who live within the parish boundaries were relocated because of the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992, and they bear many painful memories of loss. ‘They’re displaced not only physically, but culturally and psychologically as well,’ he says. ‘The basic health problem in the parish isn’t physical; it’s mental.’

The director of the parish health clinic, Doctor Janet España, concurs. ‘I’d say most of the illnesses I see are psychosomatic,’ she says. ‘So when Kim came along, she was a godsend.’

[…] Nagy graciously acknowledges the praise of others but is keenly aware of her own limitations. ‘Sometimes what I hear is very heavy and I don’t see a way out for them. I’m learning I can’t fix all the problems,’ she reflects. ‘But what I can do is sit with them – with all their anxieties – and listen.’

~Maryknoll Magazine, January 2009, p. 20-21 “A shoulder to lean on” by Fr. Joseph Fedora, M.M.

“St. Raphael’s Health Center is tucked behind the Giruka Butchery off a dirt road in Matisi Village on the outskirts of Kitale, Kenya. There Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kathleen Dunford, a physician assistant, serves as clinical officer, helping the center’s staff to treat the area’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.

On the day we arrived, the brand new maternity ward had only been open for 16 days and the staff was about to welcome its seventh baby into the world. […] Prior to the opening of the new ward established by Dunford, the health center already ran a child wellness clinic, a tuberculosis clinic, a pharmacy and an HIV/AIDS volunteer testing and counseling service. With a core staff of six people, the center treats malaria, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, sexually transmitted diseases, sickle cell disease and much more. When we asked Dunford what ailment they see the most, she told us, ‘malaria, malaria, malaria.’

Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kathleen Dunford in mission in Kenya at St. Raphael's Health Center, 2011

Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kathleen Dunford at St. Raphael’s Health Center in Kenya, 2011

‘It’s about 40 to 60 percent of our patients,’ Dunford says. The other major health issues the center deals with are HIV/AIDS, the pandemic that has ravaged East Africa, and tuberculosis.

[…] St. Raphael’s center also serves as Matisi’s emergency room and sees about 20 non-maternity patients a day.

The stated mission of St. Raphael’s Health Center is to ‘care for the health needs of the poor and vulnerable people in Matisi, Kenya, as well as being a presence of Christ’s love for all his people.’ The center’s dedicated and enthusiastic staff fulfills this mission every day.”

~Maryknoll Magazine, September/October 2012, p.38-41 “Life Saver In Matisi” by Kathy Golden

Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kylene Fremling at LaValla School in Cambodia
“Kylene is part of the physiotherapy team at the LaValla School. LaValla is the only school in Cambodia offering a full primary education to children and young people with a physical disability. The majority of students attending LaValla are years behind in their education due to neglect in their villages and denied access to education.

LaValla’s physiotherapy team works together to provide students with thorough medical care, including personalized physiotherapy specific to their disability, hydrotherapy, referrals and maintenance of assistive devise (wheelchairs, prosthetics and orthotics, etc.).

Kylene assists in providing assessments and implementing students’ treatment plans. Additionally, she is one of the team members that accompanies the students to outside activities, medical appointments and special events.”

~Maryknoll Lay Missioners Website, Missioner Profile – Kylene Fremling

Kylene has written two articles about her time in mission: One about the importance of the joy found in the journey taken together (Eating ‘sewer noodles’ and other favorite things), and another about the moments of hope she found during the pandemic (Moments of hope). Please take a moment to enjoy them!