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Contact: Amy H. Smessaert
Communications Director
Congregation of the
Sisters of the Holy Cross
Telephone: (574) 284-5728
Date:March 30, 2011 

Sisters of the Holy Cross Recognized for Care of Persons with HIV/AIDS

Notre Dame, Ind. — Nine Sisters of the Holy Cross were among the 400 people who attended the Utah AIDS Foundation’s March 29 event that honored the congregation as one of the state’s “Pioneers in HIV.” At the forefront of HIV/AIDS care 25 years ago, the congregation was recognized as the first to admit and care for AIDS patients at its Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Sister Linda Bellemore, CSC, who developed a comprehensive care program for those with HIV/AIDS, accepted the honor on behalf of the congregation on March 29 in Salt Lake City. This Holy Cross Hospital program provided basic assistance with housing, food, education, emotional and medical support, funeral planning, crisis intervention and transportation. It was an outreach effort nurtured and supported by Sister Olivia Marie Hutcheson, CSC, then the vice president for mission at Holy Cross Hospital.

Other “Pioneers in HIV” recognized by the Utah AIDS Foundation were Dr. Kristen Ries, the first clinician to treat AIDS patients in Utah; Dr. James Mason, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, who gave the decision to allow AIDS patient Ryan White to attend school; and Sen. Orrin Hatch, who with Sen. Edward Kennedy co-sponsored the Ryan White Care Act, the first federally funded program for HIV/AIDS.

Sister Linda recalled how she became involved in caring for those with AIDS in 1987. “I went to Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City knowing that there was tentative planning for an outreach program for the elderly. However, I was asked to provide these same services for a group with even greater needs, people with AIDS,” she said.

The change in ministry focus did not concern her. “If this was the need, my answer was yes,” explained Sister Linda, a nurse. “It is part of who I am as a Sister of the Holy Cross.  We are committed to responding to the particular needs of people wherever we are.”

In the mid- to late-1980s, the HIV/AIDS crisis was just beginning. “I knew very little about HIV/AIDS but figured that those living with it could teach me,” said Sister Linda, who spent six years in ministry to persons with this disease.

“The people who came into my life during that time left deep footprints on my heart and became part of the fabric of my life. It was the most blessed time of my many years in various ministries,” she said. “I learned so much: to listen to what would give their lives meaning that particular day, to keep an open mind and space in my heart, to value direct, open, honest communication, and to be part of a team of committed caregivers who could make all the difference in the world to people with HIV/AIDS.”

Sister Joan Marie Steadman, CSC, president of the congregation, shared her experience as a caregiver during that time and later as the hospital’s vice president for mission. “All of us who served these men and women — whether through direct care or support services — were blessed by their presence. It has had a profound effect on my life.

“What touched my life deeply,” Sister Joan Marie continued, “is the experience of what is possible when prejudice is confronted and overcome by compassion. Prejudice builds walls and tries to strip others of their dignity; compassion moves us to stand with others in their suffering and to take action, binding us all together.”

Said Sister Linda, “Caring for People with HIV/AIDS as a member of the team at Holy Cross Hospital was a privilege, a blessing, and an album of wonderful memories for me personally and for all of us Sisters of the Holy Cross. We are very grateful to all of you and ask God’s blessing on all who continue to serve and care for people with HIV/AIDS.”

Today, the Sisters of the Holy Cross continue to reach out to those with HIV/AIDS, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area, as well as in other parts of the United States, and in Uganda through the Holy Cross Family Centre Health Unit in Kirinda. A multifaceted health center recognized by the government of Uganda, the Holy Cross Family Centre Health Unit provides outpatient, maternity and postnatal care for all who come to the center, as well as outreach services in the adjacent villages, including immunizations and AIDS counseling. 

About the Sisters of the Holy Cross
Founded in 1841 in Le Mans, France, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross is an international community of women religious whose generalate is located in Notre Dame, Ind. The congregation numbers approximately 450 members worldwide who serve in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru, Uganda and the United States. Sisters of the Holy Cross are called to participate in the prophetic mission of Jesus to witness God’s love for all creation. Their ministries focus on providing education and health care services, eradicating material poverty, ending gender discrimination, and promoting just, mutual relationships among people, countries and the entire Earth community.

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