In the summer of 1994, Sister M. Michaeleen (Frieders), CSC, and Sister Gladys Marie (Martin), CSC, set their sights on renovating a dilapidated building for their free health clinic. Sister Michaeleen brought the idea before the Charles County (Maryland), Council, which owned the building. She had been talking with contractors and others for several weeks to determine the building’s viability for renovation.
It was a crumbling eyesore. The abandoned one-story former Waldorf Elementary School sagged with broken windows, graffiti-covered walls, a leaking roof and weeds that reached the eaves. The renovation would take an incredible amount of work—and an untold number of dollars. Yet the sisters felt in their hearts that this was the right site. Still, high hurdles stood before them, and one was the council itself.
At the meeting, a commissioner posed the question that Sister Michaeleen had been dreading. She knew the council wanted some assurance that she would have the resources for renovation. Having pondered the question and prayed about it, she still wasn’t sure how to answer. She had no clear path for securing every dollar that would be needed.
“But where will you get the money, Sister?” asked the commissioner.
In that moment, the answer came to her. She paused, and said simply, “God will provide.” And God did.
Today, the Health Partners clinic has blossomed to three locations. It offers dental services and is a beacon of hope to thousands of people in Southern Maryland. And it started from literally nothing except two hearts full of love that wanted to see people in poverty receive dignified, respectful, affordable health care.
The clinic that God built
A quiet beginning marked Health Partners' debut on July 22, 1992, when the sisters and a few volunteers opened the clinic one evening a week in the office of a doctor who had generously offered his space. The sisters had previously presented the findings of their door-to-door survey of health needs to local physicians and health officials. Sister Michaeleen explained to them that 98% of the families surveyed had little money, no health insurance and no transportation. Although some physicians and the local hospital were providing free care, it was not an organized effort Many people were going without.
The offer of the doctor’s office was a generous gesture. Still, lines of people waiting to be seen were soon out the door and getting longer every week. So they found a storefront location. Although much larger than the doctor’s office, the storefront over time also proved to be too small.
That’s when Sister Michaeleen presented the idea for the old elementary school to the county council. Within 18 months of getting the council’s approval, Health Partners moved into a portion of the renovated building. Nine months later, they expanded into the rest of the newly refurbished space.
When Sister Michaeleen and Sister Gladys Marie left Health Partners in 2003, they reflected, “It is truly the clinic that God built, for no matter the challenge, God always provided.”
Celebrating the 30th
Although Sisters Michaeleen and Gladys Marie could not attend the celebration, they sent a letter that was shared with attendees. In it, they wrote:
“We are so grateful to God for leading us to Southern Maryland, for blessing every step of our journey, for lighting the path when we thought all had gone dark, and mostly for his great love.
“When we consider the phenomenal growth of Health Partners, we are so proud of every person’s contribution who worked toward bringing health and well-being to our friends and neighbors in Southern Maryland. We share today’s joy with you, and we continue to pray for the blessing that is Heath Partners.”
At the celebration, Health Partners Executive Director Christine Mulcahey greeted county commissioners, supporters and friends of the clinic. She was especially warmed by the presence of a patient who first came to the clinic in 2009 and has remained a long-time supporter. The patient explained, “Although I had just two visits, I really wanted to show my gratitude for the services received. [I want] to help keep the resources available to all that come to your center. Thank you for all you do.”Christine added, “It is truly an honor to carry on the mission of Sister Michaeleen and Sister Gladys Marie!”