Boston shrine ministers to body as well as spirit

BOSTON -- Since the opening of St. Anthony Shrine in 1947 the Franciscan Friars have been ministering to the spiritual needs of those in downtown Boston. More recently, through the St. Anthony’s Wellness Center, the shrine at Arch Street is ministering to the physical needs of those who pass through its doors as well.

“We don’t care who you are, or where you come from, we are here to help everyone,” stressed Mickey Logemann, assistant director of the wellness center.

“There’s just so much good being done here,” she said.

Run mostly by volunteers -- there are only two paid staff members at the Wellness Center -- the facility offers screening for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol free of charge. Other services offered by the wellness center include nutritional counseling, flu clinics, hearing and oral health screenings, and the Lions’ Club Eyemobile Van offers free vision screenings once a year.

The wellness center has also teamed up with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to provide additional services, such as prostate cancer screenings. This month the wellness center is hosting the Dana-Farber Mammography Van, which will visit the shrine on June 26, offering mammograms to all women, regardless of insurance coverage. However, Logemann stressed that pre-registration is required to participate.

Center director Sister Pat Barrett, FMM, also pointed out that the center is currently negotiating with the Wang YMCA of Chinatown to expand its services to an off-site location.

Sometimes the center simply serves as a place for someone to come off the streets and get a hot cup of coffee and a cookie or two. That’s just fine with Logemann who sees it as part of the welcoming “Franciscan family attitude” that permeates all the ministries of the shrine.

Sister Pat agreed, adding that “in the wellness center there is a deep spirituality that pervades what’s happening.”

“With our Franciscan values of respect and compassion for people, people feel comfortable here,” said Sister Pat. “Even though the pace is quite fast here, there is a centeredness that gives people the ability to be anchored here, as well as in the shrine itself.”

That relaxed, welcoming atmosphere contributes to another key benefit of the center: the staff takes the time to listen to clients’ concerns.

“We are able to provide the time with each person that a person in a medical practice just cannot,” Sister Pat explained. “People feel they are being listened to.”

Logemann was quick to point out that the volunteer nursing staff does not diagnose anyone, but rather “works very closely” with patients’ primary care physicians to keep people healthy.

If a patient has no primary care physician, the nursing staff will often contact an area hospital if immediate medical attention is required. Occasionally, in a critical situation, one of the center’s nurses will accompany the patient to the hospital, she added.

“There have been many 911’s out of here,” said Logemann.

“I know that in the time we have been here we have saved a life or two,” she added.

The wellness center began operating in 2003. It is currently open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and two Sundays a month. Logemann hopes someday to see the center’s services available seven days a week, though she admits that may be a long way off.

According to Logemann, the wellness center runs on a shoestring budget.

“We run based on grants and donations,” she said, noting that the wellness center competes with numerous organizations for a limited pool of grant money.

“Mainly we run thanks to the beautiful people with their shaky hands, who put their dollar here in the box,” she said gesturing to one of the shrine’s donation boxes. “They have no idea how far their dollars go.”