A prayer group at St. Mary’s “back in the day” took seriously the call to put faith into action and began exploring the possibility of providing free medical care to neighborhood folks who were uninsured or under-insured. Susan Berghoff shares what it was like in those early days.
“Truly I say to you, to the extent you did it to one of these people of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40
It was January, 1981. As a registered nurse I had been working as a public health nurse for my full time job and volunteering at Matthew 25 clinic one evening per week. The clinic had been started in 1976 as an answer to the people showing up at the soup kitchen asking for medical help. Spearheaded by Fr. Tom O’Connor, Dr. Fouad Halaby, and Eve Bratton RN, with a volunteer board of directors, the clinic was set up and operating out of the gray house at 1117 Clay Street. Except for Eve Bratton who was the clinic director, all other help was volunteer.
The clinic was open 3 evenings per week with rotating volunteer physicians. St. Joseph hospital pharmacy filled the clinic prescriptions at no cost. With the clinic space being a small house, all the rooms were cramped, including the waiting room. The patients were seen on a first come, first serve basis and the overflow from the small waiting area would spill out onto the sidewalk. As chaotic and hectic as all clinic evenings were, it was a place of miracles. Not miracles in the sense of physical healing but in displays of kindness, patience, and looking out for each others needs. John Martin was at his post on the porch stoop every evening the clinic was open. His presence brought a calmness to the patients as they waited, with the wait often being longer than an hour. John would stay until all staff/ volunteers were safely headed home.
I had been asked by Fr. Tom to become a member of the board of directors for the clinic. Because I had a great respect for the work being done at the clinic, I agreed to a position on the board. Soon after joining the board, Eve Bratton was to go on maternity leave and I was asked to be the clinic director in her absence. After much discussion with my husband and prayer for guidance, I agreed, with much trepidation, to fill in as the director. Luckily I was able to work with Eve for about 2 weeks before that baby arrived. Fortunately Eve returned in 12 weeks so I could return to my volunteer position.
What I learned in those days of clinic work can never be taught or described. It has to be experienced. I feel it gave me a whole new awareness of trying to see Christ in everyone.
My husband and I left the Fort Wayne area as our own family began to grow. For many years I never lost touch with the happenings at the Matthew 25 clinic as it grew and grew and grew. Often as I drive into the St. Mary’s parking lot, I glance at the little gray house that was the first home for the clinic, which is now on the corner of Clay and Jefferson Streets. It makes me once again admire the visionaries who saw a need and did something about it, with the Holy Spirit pointing the way.