“There weren’t many organizations rushing to care for people with HIV and AIDS in Oakland in the 1980s. But then again, there hadn’t been many organizations ministering to poor immigrants with cholera in mid-nineteenth century Montreal. But Mother Emilie Gamelin did. And a century and a half later, following her example, and listening to the pleas from local leaders, the Sisters of Providence took up that call to serve.”
This World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, I’m reflecting on the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It was a terribly difficult time for gay men - and later other members of the LGBTQ community – living with HIV/AIDS. They experienced tremendous stigma and discrimination, as I wrote about in my blog last year.
True to their calling, the Sisters of Providence responded with compassion, and broke ground on Providence House in Oakland, Calif., 35 years ago. When it was finally completed, they welcomed 40 residents, most living with HIV.
Within five years, more than 40 people living at Providence House would die of AIDS-related complications. I was very moved by the story of one man who wept after saying he’d buried his 24th friend – his story is an example of the many unimaginable losses of that time. Thankfully, medical breakthroughs have since produced treatments that slow the virus and extend life.
The quote that starts my blog, above, is from the feature story "How Catholic sisters started homes for people with AIDS," by Michael O’Loughlin, author of Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the untold stories of compassion in the face of fear.
Michael has done a wonderful job of documenting the story of this ministry. He weaves together the stories of the residents and the compassion of the sisters and caregivers who responded with creativity and compassion when confronted with the deep need for affordable housing for people living with AIDS.
We also honor the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange who worked with the Archdiocese in Los Angeles to create housing for people living with AIDS.
Watch this video to learn more about Providence House Oakland.