How one idea (and one person) can make a difference

A behind-the-scenes look at what inspired OSV author Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller to write her latest story about a hospital in Mexico. 

My childhood fascination with St. Francis of Assisi had nothing to do with faith, but everything to do with the saint’s love of animals. My husband Mark’s interest was more serious. Shortly after graduating from high school, he entered a seminary to discern a vocation with the Capuchin Franciscans of  St. Augustine Province in Pittsburgh. But he and God both agreed on a different journey.

Still with a heart for the Franciscans,  Mark took a position in the early 1990s as music minister and youth minister at a small southwestern Pennsylvania parish that was home to a handful of Capuchins. It was there that I first heard Capuchin Father Scott Seethaler preaching when he came to facilitate a parish retreat.

By then, I had long since learned that St. Francis had done more than bless animals. He preached the Gospel, and he embraced poverty and loved the sick and marginalized. And so it goes for his followers more than eight centuries later.

Since being ordained in 1969, Father Seethaler has taught,  preached, written  books, and recorded and broadcast his preaching. I saw his name every now and then in the provincial newsletter, and sometimes I checked the Internet to see what else the Pittsburgh friars were up to. For instance, Capuchin Father Sean Patrick O’Malley became the  Archbishop of Boston, and eventually a cardinal.

And also, for instance, Father Seethaler took a trip to Mexico in 1999 that has since changed the lives of countless thousands of impoverished people who need medical care. He had no idea how he was going to build a clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico, but before he left, he promised that he would. And he did.  

What originally was the Clinicia Hospital del Pueblo (The People’s Clinic) has since grown into The Anna Seethaler Hospital, named after his mother. The staff of 52 serves more than 2,000 people every month. Those who come are the poorest of the poor, even in a country where in so many places, poverty is the norm.

Ministering to their needs is a way of living the Gospel in the spirit of a saint who didn’t experience richness until he renounced his possessions and didn’t find holiness until he was able to see the face of God in the face of a leper.

The Lord was with Francis and the leper in Assisi,  and the Lord is with the sick and the poor in Oaxaca.  

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.