Ursulines embellish HIV/AIDS Ministry




The HIV/AIDS Ministry of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown began as a small faith-based support group and evolved into the multi-faceted ministry it is today.

Sister Kathleen Minchin, director, was one of four Ursulines who founded the support group in 1992. Sister Kathleen, a hospital chaplain at the time, and the other nuns pooled observations on how HIV/AIDS was affecting individuals and their families.

“We realized how isolating it was for them,” she said.

“Some people told us how their families had them use only paper plates and plastic silverware,” Sister Kathleen said, adding another family secretly housed an infected son.

“He only left the house late at night,” she said.

“People needed a safe place to pray and work through depression,” she said. “And so many commented on the beauty of this place [Ursuline Motherhouse].”

It became evident that those with the disease and their families needed services in addition to a support group.

Sister Kathleen said the Ursulines reached out to churches and community organizations for donations of personal-hygiene items and household products. She emphasized, “It’s not about helping people die with dignity; it’s about helping them live with dignity.”

Sister Kathleen said the Guardian Angel Cafe is an umbrella activity. The once-a-month event, by invitation only, provides a home-cooked meal, pantry bags of food, personal-hygiene and household products, bingo and dessert buffet. It is a social gathering and time of sharing.

“Adults needed support, love and assurance,” Sister Kathleen said, adding that participants derive comfort by talking to others facing the same disease and similar problems.

“People told us how cathartic it was. It was a lifeline for people,” she said.

The cafe attracts about 120 adults and children or between 60 to 65 households.

Because “some are infected and some are affected,” the ministry also branched out to include a children’s program that involves participants from babies to 18-year-olds.

Brigid Kennedy, first a volunteer, became associate director in 1997. She coordinates children’s activities that include tutoring, mentoring and life skills, play group, after-school and summer programs.

“Children face many issues,” Kennedy said, referring to a situation in which a parent or caregiver has HIV/AIDS.

“Our goal is to give the kids the best chance to make good decisions.” Children’s activities are located at a site in Youngstown.

Kennedy said the children’s programs help participants envision a “stable future” by finishing high school and going to college. “It’s about putting opportunity in front of them,” she said.

Kennedy said “consistent expectations” and “one-on-one attention” are the positive reinforcements that help children thrive in spite of difficult family circumstances. She and Sister Kathleen said the children in the program often aren’t aware of a parent’s HIV/AIDS diagnosis or why they are in the program.

“But the kids have formed a community,” Kennedy said.

“What we give is a gift. There are no strings attached,” Sister Kathleen said of the ministry.

Sister Kathleen and Kennedy credited a “small but committed group of volunteers,” about 50 people, who work in the ministry.

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