Sr. Eileen McKenzie: Acupuncture for the Common Good

Lindsay Knudtson

Contributing Writer


“Do not be afraid of things that are different,” Sister Eileen McKenzie, FSPA, RN, and Certified Acupuncturist, told Lumen. “So much about Franciscan faith is related to relationships and creation, about maintaining balance and harmony in day to day life.” 


Sr. McKenzie currently practices acupuncture, a part of the holistic system of healing known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), at FSPA Community Acupuncture, a branch of Integrative Therapies, located at 2316 State Road in La Crosse. 


She describes acupuncture as a natural approach to healing that originated in ancient China over 3,000 years ago. It involves the insertion of small needles into various points within the body in order to stimulate the flow of energy and achieve balance throughout the whole self: body, mind, and spirit.


“When we are out of harmony and balance we experience disease, or being in a state of dis-ease,” Sr. McKenzie said, “which is ultimately why holistic healing methods are put into place, in hopes of reaching a sense of harmony within the whole self, and by creating a balanced relationship with the self, with others, and with the environment.”


Guided by a Franciscan set of values, her practice is committed to inner transformation, authentic relationships, and compassionate action for the sake of Gospel mission.   


“A part of this Gospel mission is to be a healing presence to a suffering world,” Sr. McKenzie said. “A big part of that healing is being a loving presence.  Healing is the outcome of that love, and that is Gospel living.”


While she initially admitted that the blending of Chinese medicine and the Catholic faith seems like a relatively unlikely mix, she believes that since both areas stem from deep-rooted traditions, “there must be something substantial within both of these traditions that ‘works’ in order to keep them moving through history in the way that they do,” Sr. McKenzie said.


“The FSPAs are involved in ministries that are tailored to each sister’s individual gifts in a community lifestyle that nurtures close relationships and meaningful interactions with others,” Sr. McKenzie said. “They have been involved in alternative methods of healing for decades. Sister Deb Schwab is a nationally certified massage therapist and has been providing massage therapy for over 20 years.”


Sr. McKenzie describes her journey into the realm of TCM not as something she always knew she was destined to do, but rather describes the journey as “riding a wave of emerging vision.”


She first began thinking about natural healing methods after graduating from Golden West, a community college located in Huntington Beach, Calif. in 1992 with a degree in nursing.


In 1995 she moved to Cameroon, Africa, where she served as a trauma nurse and nursing educator for three and a half years.


Due to an extreme lack of resources she had no choice but to “change how she viewed healing up to that point,” Sr. McKenzie said.


“Think about only having three oxygen tanks in a room with 100 hospital beds, all full with patients in need,” Sr. McKenzie said. Her goal became helping the most people with the fewest possible resources.


She began focusing her attention on various subtle energy therapies, acupuncture for example, where she says that for the first time she really began to “open her eyes to the idea of healing as meaning more than just an operation.” 


In 1998 Sr. McKenzie returned from Africa, and in 1999 she joined her current FSPA community in La Crosse, Wis.


“I was committed to living a life grounded in my faith, and wanted to radically live Jesus’ values, and knew that I needed the intense support of a faith community to do so,” Sr. McKenzie said. “The FSPA called me to be part of a loving Gospel community that I could contribute toward and grow in.”


After professing her first vows with FSPA in 2002, and with the support of her Franciscan sisters and affiliates, Sr. McKenzie chose to attend Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn., in 2003, to study Traditional Chinese Medicine. She achieved her master’s level, national certification in Oriental Medicine in 2005.


From that point on, her “feet were grounded in two worlds”: western bio medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She feels that having a foundation in both western and Chinese medicine helps both her and her work to be taken more seriously in the eyes of some of the more firmly western medicine-based doctors.


In 2004, while studying at Northwestern, Sr. McKenzie received a Federal grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, allowing her to begin acupuncture research related to the studying of patient outcomes and for the developing of a standardized data collection tool that could possibly be approved for clinical and research use.


“I was interested in treatment outcomes: how and why people come for care,” Sr. McKenzie said.


Both facets of the study were published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: outcomes in Nov. 2008, and data collection in March 2009.


In her final semester at Northwestern, Sr. McKenzie enrolled in a business management class which introduced her to a relatively new business model that had started in Ore. in 2002: community-style acupuncture, the very type of acupuncture she is currently involved in.


“Practitioners of community acupuncture believe in a healing community in which everyone should be able to take advantage of that healing,” Sr. McKenzie said.


According to POCA, the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture, the founders of community acupuncture, Lisa Rohleder and Skip Van Meter, asked three questions:  What are the barriers to people receiving acupuncture? What is absolutely necessary for acupuncture treatments? How can acupuncturists make a sustainable income providing treatments to more people?  The answer was community acupuncture. It offers low cost care in a group setting which allows for families and friends to be treated together and facilitates the comfort that can be found in healing within the presence of others rather than alone.


In community acupuncture “practitioners share resources and work together, whether in a private or shared practice, in order to offer acupuncture to people who cannot otherwise afford such services,” Sr. McKenzie said.


Typically practitioners, such as Sr. Mckenzie, have embraced the sliding-scale payment model.  FSPA Community Acupuncture offers treatments ranging from $15 to $35, based on income level, and with no financial documentation required.


“We treat students, farmers, elders, teens, referrals from both Mayo Clinic and Gunderson, and all income levels,” Sr. McKenzie said. “We have people who can only afford to pay the bare minimum and we have people at the top of the income scale who pay far more than what is asked, simply because they believe in the practice.”


After graduating from Northwestern Health and Sciences in 2005, Sr. McKenzie proceeded to start up her own private community acupuncture practice in the Twin Cities.


In July 2008, Sr. McKenzie was welcomed into full membership with FSPA, and in 2009 she moved to La Crosse and began a shared practice with Sharon Chavolla, a Viterbo graduate, who is both a licensed practitioner of healing arts and a massage therapist. 


After moving to La Crosse, Sr. McKenzie changed the location of her practice three times before ending up at the current State Road location, where she now works with and around 15 other holistic health practitioners, all guided by the same set of Franciscan values, “all committed to offering affordable, compassionate, integrative health care for the common good,” Karen Hellman told Lumen.  She is a nationally certified, state licensed massage therapist with Integrative Therapies, a teacher at Onalaska High School, and affiliate with FSPA


Offering affordable healthcare combined with an interest in corresponding medicinal research continues to be a ministerial priority for Sr. McKenzie. Currently she has formed a partnership with Mayo Health System in order to perform a descriptive study of community acupuncture and cancer related fatigue.


“Eileen is a very intelligent woman who strongly desires to bring the health benefits of acupuncture to everyone,” Hellman said. “She is a powerful acupuncturist.”


“There was a particular instance where a man came into FSPA Community Acupuncture with neck pain so terrible that he couldn’t move his head from side to side,” Sr. McKenzie said.  “I placed six needles in one of his ankles and five minutes later he was able to turn his head.  It was amazing.”


She is organized and has clear expectations and boundaries for every individual and his or her healing process. She is respectful and gentle, yet also a vibrant and joyful person. She has taught me to slow down and to take a more gentle, contemplative stance in my life” Hellman said.


“Sr. Eileen has an incredible reputation with the community members she treats” Lisa Grant told Lumen. She is a certified acupuncturist, who began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2004. She was hired, by Sr. McKenzie, to join the FSPA Community Acupuncture sector of Integrative Therapies in October, 2013.


“When I began working with Sr. Eileen some of her patients were on a six-week waiting list. She needed her patients to be able to come in regularly for treatments and she knew she wasn’t able to meet the needs of the community by herself any longer.”


“I feel privileged to provide acupuncture in an effective way that makes it affordable to all people,” Grant said. “And I am so honored to work with Sr. Eileen.  There were four people interviewing for this job and she chose me.”


The mission statement for Integrative Therapies is not just part of the website or a piece of informational literature. This mission statement is something that all practitioners at Integrative Therapies believe in and live.


“Sister Eileen lives this mission,” Hellman said. “Her life is this mission,”

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