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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 18, 2008
VOL. 46, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Slain teacher had begun studies in pastoral ministry
New online training helps teens identify, avoid abuse
Free clinic to open at cathedral,
sponsored by the Order of Malta’s
Western Association U.S.A
Bishop Allen Vigneron (right) de-scribes construction of the new cathedral to members of the Order of Malta’s Sovereign Council, Aug. 6, 2007.

A free medical clinic for uninsured children and adults will open in October as part of the new Christ the Light Cathedral Center in downtown Oakland. Sponsored by the Order of Malta’s Western Association U.S.A, the clinic will offer no-cost care in a section of the cathedral’s office building at the corner of 21st Street and Harrison Street.

Bishop Allen Vigneron said the clinic will be a tangible sign of the cathedral’s “ministry of charity.” He first envisioned the clinic while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, in 2005 with a local group of Knights and Dames of Malta. Each year members of the international Order bring thousands of sick people to Lourdes to pray for physical and spiritual healing.

“I saw the care being given to the sick there and realized that this would be a wonderful service at our new cathedral,” Bishop Vigneron said. He proposed the idea of a clinic to the East Bay members of the Order of Malta and they have spent the past two years bringing the vision to reality.

The Order of Malta Oakland Clinic will be staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses with Dr. Thomas Schmitz, an orthopedic surgeon in Oakland, serving as medical director. The clinic, which is leasing the property from the diocese for $1 per year, will pay all operating expenses, estimated between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.


Chivalry in the work of charity

Order takes the sick on pilgrimage to Lourdes

Western Association gives money, service to needy

Patients will not be charged for any medical services, including examinations, lab work and prescription drugs. In addition to the clinic doctors, there will be other physicians who agree to see clinic patients for specialized care, also at no cost. To qualify, a patient must be without any health insurance.

The Oakland clinic is modeled after the Order’s clinic in Los Angeles, which has been treating patients for nearly 30 years. William McInerney, a Knight of Malta who has been spearheading the Oakland project, expects the clinic to start providing services a few days per week and eventually growing into a five-day-a-week operation.

“We expect to treat a lot of children,” McInerney said, noting that there are an estimated 8,400 uninsured children in Oakland. More than 50,000 adults in Oakland are also without health insurance.

The Order of Malta has a long history of caring for the sick. Founded during the Crusades in the 11th century, its first mission was to build a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims and to provide for their defense. Over the centuries, wherever the Order settled, it first established a hospital, then built fortifications to defend the faith from non-Christian mauraders.

While part of their mission always has been defending the faith, that is no longer accomplished through military means.

“Our militarism today is in making sure our clinics and hospitals are run according to Catholic ethics,” said Fra Andrew W.N. Bertie, the Order of Malta grand master, in 2002. (Bertie died Feb. 7, 2008, at the age of 78.)

Today the Knights and Dames of the Order support clinics, hospitals, nursing schools and centers for the elderly and disabled throughout the world. They provided funds to rebuild homes destroyed by the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, and 250 U.S. members have repaired 16 homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The Order has 12,500 members world-wide. A small minority take monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The other Knights and Dames are lay members who devote themselves to living an exemplary Christian life while assisting the poor and suffering. There are 75 members in the Oakland Diocese.

“They are a tremendous example of living out their vocation as the lay faithful,” said Bishop Vigneron.
The new Oakland clinic is the Western Association’s second health-care project in Oakland. In the early 1980’s the members established a small free clinic at Providence Hospital which evolved into an adult day health care center at Summit Medical Center. In 1996, they helped open Alzheimer’s and dementia programs at the hospital which are no longer in operation.

The new clinic, however, is the Order’s most ambitious local effort and has mobilized numerous supporters who have helped secure needed licenses and malpractice insurance. The clinic has received furniture and medical equipment from the Kaiser Hospital Foundation and other donors.

The entire project including its yearly operating costs will be funded through donations, said William Brusher, a Knight who serves as treasurer of the clinic’s non-profit corporation.

Bishop Vigneron said there were numerous hurdles to overcome in bringing the clinic into existence. “I had the idea; they made it happen,” he said.

McInenery hopes to host an Open House at the clinic as part of the Sept. 25 dedication of the new cathedral and to begin providing care to patients the following week.

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