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Sister Marie Paul

Sister Marie Paul Serves the Underserved

‘I see the face of Christ in them’

Sister Marie Paul Lockerd, RSM, Sister Mary Rafqa Boulos, RSM and Sister Mary Nika Schaumber, RSM arrived at Cristo Rey in the summer of 2021. They weren’t sent to the center simply to pray either. As a physician, pediatrician and canon lawyer, respectively, the women came ready to push up their sleeves and get to work serving the people who rely on Cristo Rey to meet their physical and emotional needs.

With a name that means Christ the King, the Cristo Rey Community Center was an idea long before it was a physical place. It started out of the desire of neighborhood families to provide for migrant workers who came to the area each year – to provide them with the coats they didn’t know they would need in Michigan and the furniture they couldn’t transport from one home to the next.

“Those were the very beginnings of Cristo Rey,” explains CEO Joe Garcia.

By the mid-1960s, families asked the recently formed Cristo Rey Church if they could store items there, and in 1968, a nonprofit was formed for what is now the Cristo Rey Community Center.

Dr. Peter Cooke, who currently volunteers as a physician with the Cristo Rey health care clinic and was its long-time director, remembers how the space evolved to meet the growing needs of the community it served. Over the years, it expanded its services so that it now offers a full-time health care clinic, daily hot meals, counseling services, and food, clothing and personal goods pantries.  

Its most recent addition was something a little different though: the three members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma.

The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma have a charism – or gift – of mercy that they demonstrate through a commitment to health care and education. That focus made Sister Marie Paul, Sister Mary Rafqa and Sister Mary Nika a perfect fit for the work of Cristo Rey, and Joe says he had long hoped that the sisters would be able to assist at the clinic.

“Christ was a healer,” says Sister Marie Paul. The Religious Sisters of Mercy seek to follow that example with their work in medicine. “Health care always serves the needs of the Church,” she explains.

Following God’s Call

While she is a family practice doctor with a focus on women’s health, Sister Marie Paul says she is – and was – a sister first.

“I got the call to follow Christ wherever he goes,” she says. That call sent her to the religious life and specifically to the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma.

“I love their charism,” Sister Marie Paul says. “I was attracted to the joy in the community.”

Once a member of the order, it was determined that she should become a doctor. She attended medical school in Maine, completed her residency in Minneapolis and then worked for 20 years at a clinic owned by the sisters in Jackson, Minnesota.

From there, she was assigned to St. Louis, Missouri, where she created two mobile clinics by retrofitting 40-foot Winnebago recreational vehicles. One was used for medical care, while the other housed a dental clinic; both helped meet the needs of residents in surrounding rural communities.

Now in Lansing, Sister Marie Paul’s patients come to her rather than her taking the clinic to them. However, she says the goal is the same: to treat everyone with the dignity they deserve as children of God.

Working with God’s Plan

Sister Marie Paul hopes everyone who walks into an exam room at the clinic will have an encounter with Christ. She isn’t there to proselytize to her patients but rather to serve as a witness to hope.

“I hope they will experience God’s love and mercy in the way we care for them,” she says.

As a NaProTechnology medical consultant, Sister Marie Paul specializes in women’s health care and focuses on addressing fertility issues in a way that cooperates with a woman’s body and with divine law.

“We practice the Church’s teachings on fertility,” she notes, and that approach is something that has already borne fruit. For instance, Sister Marie Paul has worked with a number of patients who have struggled with infertility. By using NaProTechnology, eight women have been able to achieve pregnancy so far.

Excellent Care for Everyone

Cristo Rey’s mission has long been to serve the underserved, and that means the clinic accepts patients who may be turned away elsewhere because they either don’t have insurance or use the government’s Medicaid program.

“The providers who work here have a heart for the mission,” Sister Marie Paul says. In many cases, they are working with people who have complex medical, social and psychological conditions, and sister credits Joe with creating an environment that puts patients first.

“Serving the poor is not profitable,” Joe says. But Cristo Rey is not about making a profit. “We’re about doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing means ensuring each patient is given adequate time with providers rather than being rushed out the door to make way for the next appointment.

“Each office visit is a minimum of 30 minutes,” Sister Marie Paul says. That may not sound like much, but it far exceeds the 10-15 minutes offered by other clinics. “It makes a huge difference in the care for the patients.”

What’s more, if patients can’t afford their medicine, Cristo Rey has an employee who spends all day calling pharmaceutical companies and other programs to secure free or discounted medications. Joe calls the approach “smile and dial,” and he estimates the effort has netted Cristo Rey patients somewhere between $1.1 million to $1.4 million in free medications.

“The work that’s being done here to get patients the medication they need is amazing,” Sister Marie Paul notes.

Catholic Service in Action

For the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, coming to Cristo Rey doesn’t represent a career change. Instead, it’s answering a divine call to see Christ in all people and meet their needs regardless of their faith, personal struggles or shortcomings.

That is what Catholic service is all about – “To accept the person where they are at,” according to Sister Marie Paul.

The sisters – along with a team of dedicated staff and volunteers – do just that. Cristo Rey sees more than 2,500 patients come through its doors for 8,000 medical visits each year. More than 32,000 hot meals are served at the community center annually, and both physical and emotional needs are met through Cristo Rey’s food pantry, clothing pantry and counseling services.

While Sister Marie Paul doesn’t spend office visits with patients discussing God, she hopes everyone will see him in her care and compassion. After all, she explains, “I see the face of Christ in them.”

Sister Marie Paul