Update: Sister Jacinta Powers completed her ministry at the Church Health Center in 2016. In January 2017, she began serving as a registered nurse at the Green River District Health Department in Owensboro, Ky.
When people talk about Sister Jacinta Powers, they may mention her sense of humor, her desire to keep learning, or her skills as a nurse. But everyone mentions her love of ministering to the poor.
“She gets her joy in service, it’s what excites her,” said Ursuline Associate Martha House, who has accompanied Sister Jacinta on several mission trips abroad. “Some people like to vacation, but her joy comes in service.”
“Her intensity and love for the poor, her insights and intelligent searching for the truth, and her precious sense of humor are great gifts to me and to our Ursuline community,” said Sister Rosemary Keough, who taught Sister Jacinta in high school and ministered with her in Chile.
“Serving the poor has always been part of me,” Sister Jacinta said. “It’s been a process. Where does Jesus call my gifts to? I’ve been really blessed with education and a love of hands-on nursing,” she said. “Where God wants you is where passion and need intersect. I’m always happy serving the poor.”
For the past year and a half, Sister Jacinta has been serving the working poor as a registered nurse at the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., after returning from a full-time Ursuline ministry in Mandeville, Jamaica. The center calls on the aid of churches and the medical community to offer care and wellness education for those who do not have insurance.
“After returning from Jamaica, one of the things I wanted to make sure of was to stay in touch with my call to serve the poor,” she said. “That was my prism.” Sister Maureen Griner, director of the Dorothy Day House in Memphis, told her there was a great need to serve the poor there, and put Sister Jacinta in contact with the Church Health Center.
“I wanted hands-on nursing,” Sister Jacinta said. “Church Health Center just felt so right. You hear the mission, it just resonates with me.” She began in June 2009.
The Church Health Center began in 1987, a year after Dr. G. Scott Morris moved from his native Atlanta to Memphis. Morris was an ordained Methodist minister and a physician, and said he knew his call was to serve the poor. “Atlanta was getting too big. I read that Memphis was the poorest big city in America,” said Morris, who still serves as executive director of the center and sees patients daily.
“The mission of the Gospels is to preach, teach, and heal,” Morris said. “In our church, we have preach and teach down. If you want to be faithful, you don’t get a pass on healing.”
Today, the center sees 36,000 people a year in its clinic, another 100,000 in its wellness center. (Learn more by visiting www.churchhealthcenter.org.)
“We’ll take all the nun health care professionals. We’ll hire them sight unseen,” Morris said. “They are committed. They’ve persevered over time.” Sister Jacinta also brings another special gift, Morris said. “Sister Jacinta makes me laugh almost every day.”
Sister Jacinta works on a team with a nurse practitioner and certified medical assistant seeing 20-23 patients a day. “Diabetes and hypertension are what we see most,” she said. Long-term patients make appointments the day before, and there is also a walk-in clinic, where Sister Jacinta works on Fridays.
“A long-term patient is a woman who works 20 hours a week, is the primary provider for a child 6 or under, or a full-time student,” Sister Jacinta said. “A man is the same, except he has to work 30 hours a week.” Walk-in patients may be coming for the first time. “They say, ‘I lost my job and my insurance, I don’t know where to go,’” Sister Jacinta said.
John Foster, clinic manager, calls Sister Jacinta “a big picture thinker.”
“I go to her first to see if we need to make schedule changes. She comes to me bringing solutions,” Foster said.
Having a sister on staff benefits the center, Foster said, who notes that one of the doctors on staff, Dr. Ellen Buchignani, is a Sister of Mercy.