Villa Therese Catholic Clinic Celebrates 80 Years
By Megan Simmermeyer, Communications co-op
Villa Therese Catholic Clinic resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and emerged from St. Vincent Hospital when the Sisters of Charity saw a need for a free clinic for the neediest of the community.
This past October, Villa Therese Catholic Clinic (VTCC) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, celebrated its 80th year of operation, with Sister of Charity Patmarie Bernard co-chairing the event with Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester. The anniversary celebration was initiated with Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, and during his homily, the Archbishop lauded the clinic for its efforts to bring healthcare to those in most need.
Following Mass, the celebration continued at the Drury Inn, formerly St. Vincent Hospital, where guests were greeted by the current VTCC Board chair and executive director. Archbishop Wester and S. Patmarie acted as guest speakers, in addition to the traditional performances by the Danza Azteca de Anahuac, Folklorico, and Trio Latino groups.
The night celebrated the years the clinic has been in operation since its establishment in 1937, when it emerged as an additional service from St. Vincent Hospital and Orphanage. It was established by the Marquette League Mission Board and the Sisters of Charity, who saw a need for a free healthcare clinic in the Santa Fe/Northern New Mexico area. The Board and Sisters took their proposition to then Archbishop Rudolph Gerken, and he agreed with them.
S. Patmarie Bernard (left) and Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester acted as co-chairs of the Villa Therese Catholic Clinic’s 80th anniversary celebration in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When it began operation, VTCC was one of the first outpatient clinics in the nation and worked on a solely volunteer basis. All the doctors, dentists, and other professionals were volunteers who performed medical and paramedical services for VTCC’s patients.
Over the years, the clinic expanded and enhanced its services. In 1943, during World War II, the Medical Missionary Sisters assumed administration responsibilities, as war-time conditions strained the availability of volunteers. Four years later, in 1947, the Sisters of Charity resumed supervision of the clinic, and S. Philip Neri MacInnis was appointed as supervisor/director.
In 1952, the Handmaids of the Precious Blood of Jemez Springs, New Mexico, took over as guardians of the clinic, and S. Miriam Charles, H.P.B., became director for the next 29 years. When S. Miriam retired as director, S. Patmarie accepted the position and spent 23 years acting as executive director for VTCC.
For her first month, S. Patmarie oriented herself within the local Sisters’ community, as well as familiarized herself with the clinic itself. She says one of the first actions as director was to create a protocol for different aspects of the clinic, so that they could provide more efficient, capable healthcare services.
S. Patmarie Bernard (center) encountered many people during her time at Villa Therese Catholic Clinic in Santa Fe, Mexico, and a few, like Josafina and Ermalinda Santana, attended the clinic’s anniversary celebration.
S. Patmarie’s various backgrounds enabled her to transition well into the role. For instance, her management skills enabled her to provide job descriptions for all volunteers, so that necessary work would be completed and done so effectively. Her medical technologist and nursing backgrounds meant that she could set up basic lab tests as well as assist doctors if necessary. “It was a faith experience,” S. Patmarie says, and she felt God leading her through it all.
In addition to her personal experience, she says she reaped the benefits of the connections made by Sisters before her. When the clinic required maintenance repairs, volunteers were always ready and willing to assist. S. Patmarie says many volunteered their services—whether to fix a furnace or do electrical work—in gratitude for the healthcare the clinic had provided for their families. “God is always putting skillful, gifted people in my life,” she says.
Her favorite aspects of the clinic involved working with the VTCC Board and the volunteers who helped make the healthcare service possible. Over the years, she worked with many of her fellow Sisters of Charity, including Shirley Le Blanc, John Chrysostom McDonald, Peggy Deneweth, and Janet Gildea. And of course, another of S. Patmarie’s favorite aspects of the clinic was engaging with the people it served.
While she enjoyed her time at VTCC, S. Patmarie shared that not everyone is capable of directing such a clinic. One needs to have “presence, gratitude, and help” and support the volunteers so they will want to continue their work with VTCC. Her role was a challenging one, but she says, “I was never alone because God is within. I grew within a very contemplative way.”
In 2004, S. Patmarie retired from her position as executive director of VTCC, and moved back to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she continues to volunteer and engage with the community. Currently, she volunteers with Santa Maria Community Services, as well as serves on the organization’s board. There, she participates in senior wellness clinics, which she notes require having “presence” and genuinely caring about the patients. In addition to Santa Maria, S. Patmarie does spiritual direction and retreat work.