By Karel Lucander
Being a good listener and deescalating crises is the key to Sister María Luisa Vera’s success as president of Mercy Ministries in Laredo, Texas. Since 2006, Sister María Luisa has juggled administrative duties, personnel issues, executive and board meetings and bottom-line reports and also represented the Sisters of Mercy at community events. But primarily, she oversees a health clinic and domestic violence shelter. Her calm demeanor and matter-of-fact sensibility allow her to effectively shepherd a team of nearly 60 employees.
“When a situation arises, I take a deep breath and figure out how to fix it,” she says. “In the health system we say, ‘Let’s huddle and not let things get really bogged down.'”
Providing the Best Possible Care
With her guidance, Mercy Ministries runs a much-needed health clinic, 24/7 shelter for women and children and mobile health unit that provides visits to 14 underserved rural communities in an effort to reach patients with transportation limitations. Patients receive primary care and diabetes or blood pressure checks along with education about prevention through early detection.
The clinic is not free, but nurse practitioners and visiting doctors offer affordable care. Specialty physicians also work with the clinic, providing referrals at reduced rates. Thanks to a generous grant, counseling services and exercise classes also are available now. Many patients do not have financial resources and/or medical insurance.
“We help them get back to health and their jobs,” Sister María Luisa says. “Our patients work, but insurance doesn’t necessarily cover them. If they have an appointment but get a call to go to work, they are going to choose to work.”
Faithful to the Mercy Legacy
Born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, Sister María Luisa grew up in a bilingual household, learning to speak fluent Spanish and English. This serves her well as 90 percent of the ministry’s clients speak only Spanish.
For years Sister María Luisa worked as a nurse, so she is knowledgeable about health care. Fundraising was the most daunting aspect when she transitioned into this ministry.
“When I interviewed for this position, I knew very little about fundraising and grant writing. But I have learned a lot along the way,” she says. “We’ve been really blessed and we ride on the veils of the sisters who came before us. They originally came to Laredo in 1894, and there’s still a lot of respect for them here. We try to be faithful to that legacy.”
“I Love Being a Sister of Mercy”
Sister María Luisa professed her final vows as a Sister of Mercy in 1963. “I love being a Sister of Mercy, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I continue to be grateful for all the gifts I receive,” she says.
When she is not at the shelter or clinic, Sister María Luisa enjoys “putzing around in the yard, being outdoors and reading.” If time allows, this self-proclaimed news junkie enjoys delving into The New York Times.