Year Joined MKLM: 1984
City: Maryknoll offices
Population Served: U.S. Church
Description: Medical consultancy, mission education and promotion, advocacy
Maryknoll Lay Missioners has supported Susan in East Africa for over 33 years, in her faith, in her basic personal needs, as well as with resources to work as a physician. Susan now feels called to come back to the U.S. to tell the stories of the people who have inspired her, and she hopes to inspire others to come join MKLM. Not everyone is called to follow this path, but for those who are equally inspired they can support us with their prayers and financial resources. Susan reflects: “Catholic lay people are a vital expression of Jesus’ admonition to preach the Gospel to the ‘ends of the earth.’ I want to continue to be part of this ongoing response to Jesus’ call to ‘love one another as I have loved you’…even to the ends of the earth!”
Susan’s last ministry in Kenya was as a Family Physician and Medical Adviser to the Kenyan Health Coordinator for the Health Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa. Together, they strove to improve the Archdiocese’s 24 healthcare units. Susan traveled to various health units to teach, supervise and do complex patient consultations with staff. The main goal was to improve the capacity of the health care workers to provide quality services. All of the units are staffed by nurses or physician assistants, who often must function as doctors at the end of a long isolated road! She helped to improve dispensary structures with renovations, and assisted the Health Coordinator in employing personnel and developing health commission plans and programs.
Susan is from St. Patrick Parish, Urbana, Illinois, in the Diocese of Peoria. After participating in mission trips to Appalachia, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, she was looking for a group that would allow her to work overseas for several years and would support her in her Catholic faith. In 1984, Maryknoll Lay Missioners was the only group that was able to do both. She had read the Maryknoll magazine in her grandmother’s living room and was thrilled when MKLM accepted her to work in Tanzania. “I felt I had been very blessed and wanted to give back to others. Little did I realize how much I would be given and blessed by the people I have lived and worked with.”
Susan began at Kowak bedded dispensary where the Bishop asked that they renovate the outpatient department and remodel the convent to become a 32-bed health center. There was an outbreak of measles when she first arrived and two to three children were dying daily, literally suffocating to death. She had never seen one case of measles in her entire medical training. They initiated community outreach clinics to provide immunizations. Within three years, no children were dying, and within six years there were no more children sick with measles.
After six years, Susan felt she had done her part and it was time to move on. Bishop Paride Taban in the Diocese of Torit (now South Sudan) was calling for missioners to help. She was invited to begin a primary health care program for the diocese in October 1991. Unfortunately, the war came close to where she was living and she had to move about nine times in six months. They eventually settled in Nimule on the southern-most border with Uganda, and began a tuberculosis treatment program that cared for more than 500 patients until it was disrupted by the war and the inpatients were moved into Uganda. Most of the patients on maintenance fled to another part of the country. So she began to provide primary healthcare in two displaced-persons camps, which totaled 30,000 individuals.
After six years of living on the front line of the war, Susan felt a need to move to a safer place, Toposaland, on the far eastern side of South Sudan. They set up the first modern medical services among the eastern Toposa nomadic indigenous people who had never had modern human health care services. After six years, Susan was feeling a bit lonely in such an isolated semi-arid environment and again felt the Spirit guiding her to move on.
In 2003, she began working in the Catholic Diocese of Kitale in western Kenya. The Bishop asked that she help get Kiminini Cottage Hospital back on its feet. They expanded it from a 19 to a 32-bed unit. Susan also assisted in training Family Medicine resident doctors from Moi Teaching Hospital during their community medicine rotations. She also did monthly outreach clinics to Kolongolo and Matisi clinics. During the post-election violence of 2007-2008, the hospital provided medical care for 9,000 people displaced from Mt. Elgon to the Kiminini area. After six years, she again followed the Spirits’s lead and moved on. She was invited to work in the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa, where she is currently serving.
In 2012, Susan was awarded the Medal of Valor by the American Medical Association (AMA) in recognition of her life-long work and “courage under extraordinary circumstances.”
After eight years in Mombasa, Susan is again moving on: “My mother is 85 and I am also older with some health issues. I have decided to move back to Urbana, IL, to live with my mother. Maryknoll Lay Missioners has offered me a position to work from home in Mission Education and Mission Advancement in the Midwest. I am very excited to begin this new chapter in August 2018. Transition back to the US will be just another challenge in my peripatetic life. I have been so blessed by the people I have worked with all over East Africa, and learned how big my ego is and how little I know. I have seen people recover when I never thought there was a chance at all. I have seen unnecessary suffering, and hope and trust in God, when I expected severe depression and people contemplating suicide. I have learned that my troubles are miniscule when compared with people who have lost everything and had to run for their very lives. The faith of these people in a loving God, who is with us always, has truly made me know that we are never alone…love is always with us.”