By NANCY FRAZIER O'BRIEN
When Sr. Mary Jo McGinley, RSM, was discerning during the late 1980s whether to switch to health care after working as an educator for 20 years, members of her community's leadership team suggested she talk it over with Sr. Concilia Moran, RSM.
"I asked a lot of questions and then she asked me, 'What is God telling you?' She helped me answer the question of which direction I should go," said Sr. McGinley, who went on to earn a master's degree in public health from Yale University and has served since 2004 as executive director of Catholic Health East's Global Health Ministry in Newtown Square, Pa.
So it is fitting that Sr. McGinley is the 2013 winner of CHA's Sr. Concilia Moran Award, presented "to an individual in Catholic health care recognized for creativity and breakthrough thinking that advances the ministry."
"I told her later how helpful she had been," Sr. McGinley said. "I remember her as a person who pulled the best out of everyone."
Sr. Moran died in 1990 at the age of 59, and the award has been given each year since 1992. Sr. McGinley accepted the 2013 award June 3 at the awards dinner during the Catholic Health Assembly in Anaheim, Calif.
Have passport, will travel
As head of Global Health Ministry, Sr. McGinley leads mission teams on an average of five trips each year to Peru, Guatemala, Jamaica and Haiti. Each trip lasts about two weeks, but these are no cookie-cutter missions that provide the same standardized health care to each community.
Instead, Sr. McGinley works closely with partners in the local community to find out what is needed. She then recruits the medical professionals who can do the most good and secures the supplies or medications that would be most beneficial in that community.
"The teams are dictated in response to the invitation and direction of our in-country partners," Sr. McGinley said. Sometimes the teams might offer eye or dental care, in addition to medical and surgical expertise. At times the visits are primarily advisory as local partners work to establish themselves.
The size of each mission team can vary from a dozen people to more than 50.
"The team members are predominantly people with clinical skills, but others are needed and welcomed," Sr. McGinley said.
"The team experience is really transformative," said Sr. Kathleen Keenan, RSM, vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and a former board chair and volunteer with Global Health Ministry.
"This is not a case of wealthy Americans coming in with all the money and skills," she added. "You are always working side by side with in-country partners. You see the life of the people, serving in a different way."
Sr. Keenan, who participated on mission teams to all four countries while serving on the Global Health Ministry board, said Sr. McGinley's understanding of the importance of local partners also has helped her become a wise steward of the organization's resources.
"All not-for-profits struggle to be sustainable," she said. "I saw (in her) a tremendous amount of understanding of how to steward the resources of the program during a period of great decline of economic resources."
As an example, she cited a proposal to greatly expand a field hospital in Esquipulas, Guatemala, as Global Health Ministry and its partners had done earlier in Chulucanas, Peru. "But our Guatemalan partners said, 'That's not what we want you to do,'" Sr. Keenan said.
They wanted the mission team to focus instead on health education in the countryside, thus equipping local communities to be able to care for their own health.
"If we had plowed ahead, we would have been wasting resources," Sr. Keenan said.
Another volunteer, Dr. Mathew Mathew, is chief medical officer at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. Originally from India, he said he had some experience with mission work in developing countries but was not prepared for the suffering he encountered on his first mission trip to Haiti during a period of civil unrest there in 2003.
"To see innocents suffering from the conflict of war, it was really an eye-opener," he said.
Mathew described Sr. McGinley as "a very level-headed leader who knows the systems (in each country) and how to get around some of the red tape." He praised the orientation process that she has developed that helps each volunteer to quickly understand what to do and not to do in each region.
The application and orientation process have a spiritual aspect too, although volunteers can come from any faith tradition.
Each potential team member writes a personal statement about his or her motivation for participating in the mission and how the trip would bring about spiritual growth. "During the mission, we take time at night to reflect on the day and then, if people want, to share what touched them that day," Sr. McGinley said.
The goal is for the mission experience to transform each team member spiritually. But another aim is to make each volunteer into a lifetime supporter of Global Health Ministry, Sr. Keenan said.
"Each person is asked to consider raising the funds for their room and board, and to do more if they can," she said. "They always encounter a need for more resources when in-country," and the awareness of those needs stays with team members after they return.
Flying the flag for international outreach
Sr. McGinley said she is honored by the award and views it as recognition of the growing importance of international service programs to the Catholic health ministry.
"More and more health systems are stepping up to the plate," she said. "I am getting more and more requests from small health systems or individual facilities, asking for information and to share some of our policies and procedures."
Bruce Compton, CHA's senior director for international outreach, said Sr. McGinley has been influential in raising awareness of the needs beyond U.S. borders, especially after the earthquake in Haiti. The Catholic health care ministry is contributing $10 million to rebuild St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince. The hospital was destroyed in the catastrophic temblor in 2010.
"She has invited others to participate, encouraged them to go on trips with her and, beyond her own work, has encouraged others to become involved in their own missions," he said.
Compton said the importance of international outreach in Catholic health care is evidenced by growing participation in the annual Global Summit, June 4 in Anaheim. The daylong summit brings together representatives of health systems with such groups as Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Medical Mission Board, Mission Doctors Association and others.
"I'm thrilled that someone involved in international outreach is getting this award," he said. "Not only does it provide appropriate recognition to the great work that is happening with Catholic Health East and Global Health Ministry and Sr. Mary Jo, but also to the many others who have been doing similar work."