A Catholic Sister learns to serve people with AIDS

Sister Mary Ellen Rombach, left, and Sister Carol Baltosiewich co-founded Bethany Place, an HIV and AIDS resource center, in Belleville, Illinois, in 1988. (Photo courtesy of Carol Baltosiewich)

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In the fifth episode of "Plague," Mike visits the small Midwestern city of Belleville, Illinois, where a Catholic Sister broke ground in the 1980s by opening an organization to provide services for people living with HIV and AIDS. Though she was a trained ICU and ER nurse, Sister Carol Baltosiewich had much to learn about the disease before she could help treat it. So she journeyed to New York City with another sister to volunteer at Catholic hospitals on the front lines of the AIDS crisis.

That experience dramatically changed Sister Carol's perspective. She witnessed firsthand the suffering people with AIDS experienced, along with their partners and family members. But it was the deep love present amidst the suffering that truly changed her. She would come to realize that ministering to people with HIV and AIDS first required a sincere self-examination. As she put it, "You can't even deal with AIDS until you first face your own prejudices and biases."

Sister Carol returned to Belleville and got to work. She set up a helpline to answer questions about HIV and AIDS, which turned into a highly respected AIDS service organization known as "Bethany Place".

Learn more at www.americamag.org/plague.

You can follow Mike on Twitter @mikeoloughlin.

You can listen to “Plague” on Apple Podcasts here, on Google Play here, or on Spotify here.

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