By Jim Wogan
This year’s volunteer appreciation Mass and luncheon for the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic cast a wide net on its past efforts and current accomplishments and touched briefly on future goals of the mobile health-care ministry, which has been rolling into medically underserved communities in East Tennessee since 2014.
Each year the clinic staff brings its volunteers together in worship, fellowship, food, and recognition for a job well done. This year’s gathering took place Nov. 10 at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City.
Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated Mass for clinic volunteers, guests, and staff members. Deacon Scott Maentz assisted. St. Thomas parishioner Rafael Pubillones, a deacon candidate for the Diocese of Knoxville, served as acolyte.
In his homily, Bishop Stika spoke of the clinic’s healing ministry and drew a direct connection to the words and actions of Jesus.
“When Jesus entered a town, he would do several things. He would teach. He would teach by His witness, and He would reach out to the people who were marginalized, the people who were forgotten. He would nourish. And He would heal,” Bishop Stika said.
“I think the work of St. Mary’s Legacy Foundation and the mobile medical clinic accomplishes those three things because of your willingness to give your time to other people, especially in an area where you probably serve more non-Catholics than Catholics. You good people represent Christ to them and to others because you are doing the work that Jesus did when he entered a town or village. You do the work of Jesus,” the bishop added.
Lunch was served in the parish family life center following Mass. Volunteers shared some of their personal stories working for the clinic over the years. Sister Timothea Elliott, RSM, was guest speaker for the afternoon and offered insight on the Psalms, with a focus on St. Ambrose and Psalm 24.
Three volunteers were recognized with five-year service pins:
- Susan Lawlor is a retired teacher who volunteers as a member of the clinic hospitality team and tracks volunteer hours;
- Dr. John Harris is a retired physician who volunteers at nearly all the clinic’s visits to five communities across East Tennessee;
- Eleanor Kulikowski is a retired nurse who serves as the clinic’s volunteer coordinator. Ms. Kulikowski also helps with volunteer recruitment and training and assists organizing the annual luncheon.
Special recognition went to Gloria Risko, who was honored with the 2021 Judy Award, named for the late Judy Schmidt, the founder of the clinic’s volunteer corps, which has grown to include 56 active members. Mrs. Risko is a retired registered nurse who works as a site manager at clinic stops in Athens and Decatur.
“Gloria does so much to assist us,” said Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, RSM, medical director for the clinic. “She assists patients, makes sure the clinic is clean and safe, and does a fabulous job coordinating all of our volunteers for our sites. She is a great example of treating each person she encounters with the love and dignity that they deserve. This includes our patients and our volunteers.”
Mrs. Schmidt’s son, Phillip, board chairman for the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, was in attendance.
“I want to thank those people that established this foundation, this passion for patients, because that’s where it happens,” Mr. Schmidt told those in attendance. “We’re growing, and I’m very excited. We have a great executive director with Martin (Vargas). Sister Mary Lisa has recruited some good physicians and people that have come aboard for us. We’ve got a great assistant executive to help Martin and our team, and we’ve got a lot of good things that are getting ready to happen, and it’s continuously going to grow.”
“We’re going to be able to serve more patients. The board, in a recent strategic meeting, established how are we going to continue going forward, and the No. 1 thing we’re focused on is volunteers. It doesn’t happen without you guys. Every single person here, that’s why this works. So, from my heart, from my mom’s heart, for (founding medical director) Sister Mariana, and for all those people from the ground up, I just want to thank you for all the work that you do,” Mr. Schmidt noted.
St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic has undergone significant staff changes in recent months. Sister Mary Lisa became its new medical director in 2020 following the reassignment of founding director Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, MD, to Washington, D.C. Martin Vargas, whose background includes leadership success with a No. 1 Fortune 500 company, nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurial start-ups, was appointed the clinic’s new executive director in September.
Other staff members are Beth Ann Arrigo, nurse manager; Sister Mary Luke Feldpausch, RSM, clinic assistant; and Andrea Wingfield, administrative assistant.
“You make a key difference every time you arrive at one of our sites when you put on your name tag and smile towards each other and our patients,” Mr. Vargas told volunteers at the luncheon.
“It’s been a tough time during this pandemic. It has affected us all. But there are bright spots. Chief among them is you, our volunteers, and our supporters. You are the reason St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic never stopped going out during the pandemic.
“For those who volunteer behind the scenes, in our office, the warehouse, or drive the mobile clinic, literally if you drive the clinic, we cannot get there without you. So, to all the gentlemen who drive, I’d like to say thank you, and ladies, if anyone wants to make that an equal opportunity, Sister Mariana Koonce would shine with pride knowing that you were driving it,” he said.
The small-in-stature, but very motivated Sister Mariana was licensed to drive the large mobile clinic and often did so herself to many of the remote locations it serves.
With an homage to the past, and recognition of this year’s service accomplishments, Mr. Vargas turned to the future in his closing remarks.
“You help us deliver the healing ministry of Jesus to East Tennessee. Coming up, things may feel new. We are planning to expand, to carry our healing ministry to a new location in Scott County. We have new technology that will enable us to communicate more effectively. You are the legacy in our clinic, and the legacy is before us, so thank you for all you do, and God bless you.”
To learn more about the clinic and volunteer opportunities, please visit SMLCares.com.