Liberia: Dr. Paul E. Mertens, U.S. Physician Who Served Liberia for 18 Years, Has Died

Dr. Paul E. Mertens, age 88, of St. Paul, passed away on March 19. He lived a full life defined by a strong faith, devotion to family and service to others. He touched thousands of people through his dedication as a physician, his love of teaching and his humble spirit of kindness.  

Paul graduated from Robbinsdale High School and studied at Crown College and the University of MN (Summa cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa). Upon completion of the University of MN Medical School (Alpha Omega Alpha), he married Donna Freeberg, his beloved wife of 60 years.  

In 1963, along with their newborn son, they traveled to Liberia, West Africa, where Paul served as Physician and later Medical Director at Curran Lutheran Hospital in Zorzor, Lofa County. As the only physician for years at a time, working alongside a dedicated team of colleagues, he was a jack of all trades, performing brain surgery, conducting dialysis with no machine, extracting teeth, repairing the autoclave, initiating a community health program, managing the hospital farm and planning the expansion of the hospital buildings. He ultimately spent 18 years working in Liberia as a physician and public health professional through the Lutheran Church and the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.).  

Among his many honors and recognitions, he received the Liberian Presidential Achievement Award in Health and was inducted by the President as Grand Commander in the Order of the Star of Africa in consideration of meritorious and distinguished service rendered to the Republic of Liberia.  

Paul had a passion for teaching. He trained countless health care workers in Liberia, supervised Columbia University medical student interns, conducted health orientation for Peace Corps Volunteers and taught nursing students at Crown College. In coordination with the Liberian Ministry of Health and U.S.A.I.D., he spearheaded the development of the Handbook for Health Personnel in Rural Liberia.  

Upon returning to Minnesota, Paul joined the Columbia Park Medical Group as a Family Physician. Service to Liberia remained an integral part of his life in his retirement. He traveled to Liberia several times a year through the Carter Center to train nurses and physician assistants in the treatment of mental health conditions after a prolonged civil war. He also completed a comprehensive revision of the Handbook for Health Personnel in Rural Liberia. He kept both his Minnesota and Liberia medical licenses active up to his last year and enjoyed volunteer work with Global Health Ministries and Friends of Liberia. He used his expertise to advise organizations providing support during both the Ebola and Covid outbreaks, including the shipment of needed supplies to Liberia. 

Paul had a particular love for the beauty of the natural world and enjoyed many trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Gull Lake in Minnesota and to Mexico and Kenya with his family. His work and travels took him to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe.  

He was devoted to his family and especially lit up whenever he was with his grandchildren. He will be forever loved and remembered by his wife Donna, son Mark, daughter Mary, son-in-law John Langlois, granddaughter Emily, grandson Paul and a host of other relatives, colleagues and friends. He is preceded in death by his parents and brother Phil. His sister Priscilla Gardner passed away two weeks after his death.  

Service 11:00am Saturday, April 22 at Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 37-40