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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Documentary features Sisters of the Holy Cross serving during AIDS epidemic

During the mid-1980s, only two medical professionals would care for patients diagnosed with HIV or AIDS: Dr. Kristen Ries and physician assistant Maggie Snyder. Dr. Ries and Snyder cared for their patients in Salt Lake City’s Holy Cross Hospital, which was founded by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, as well as at a clinic in southern Utah.

Four Sisters of the Holy Cross were also involved in the care of these HIV and AIDS patients, two of whom were interviewed for the documentary “Quiet Heroes,” which debuted at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, from Jan. 18-28. Bernie Mulick, C.S.C., a nun who currently resides at Saint Mary’s, was one of the sisters featured in the film.

“It’s part of our mission as Sisters of the Holy Cross to care for those who are poor and sick and needy,” Mulick said in an email. “We have always cared for the forgotten ones, for the underdogs. They were the railroaders and the coal miners in our earliest days in Utah [1875]. During the 1980s and 1990s, individuals with HIV and AIDS were the lepers of the time, and no one else was taking care of them.”

Mulick met Ries and Snyder at Holy Cross Jordan Valley Hospital in West Jordan, Utah, prior to her work assisting them with the care of HIV and AIDS patients, she said. 

“Dr. Ries and I talked about my going back to school to become a physician assistant,” Mulick said. “She was my preceptor, at different times, during my two-year program at the University of Utah School of Medicine.”

Linda Bellemore, C.S.C., another sister at Saint Mary‘s, was also interviewed for the film for her involvement with HIV and AIDS patients. She served as a nurse at the hospital, she said in an email. Bellemore said she was encouraged to pursue this work because of the efforts of Olivia Marie Hutcheson, C.S.C. The hospital, she said, offered care to patients with HIV and AIDS because of Hutcheson's insistence. 

“I was scheduled to move to Holy Cross Hospital, Salt Lake City, to start a program of home visits to elderly patients after discharge from the hospital to see if they needed any resources…,” Bellemore said. “Just before I arrived, I was asked if I would do these same services but for a different group of people — those with the new dreaded disease of HIV or AIDS. Being a Sister of the Holy Cross as well as a nurse and hospital chaplain, I immediately said yes. Knowing nothing about HIV and AIDS except what I had seen in the media, I decided to ask those living with the disease to teach me about it. This decision led me to the most blessed ministry of my life.”

The clear need of support in patients with HIV and AIDS drew Bellemore to this work, she said.

“Those were the years of fear about the transmission of this terminal disease resulting in alienation from family, friends and society due to their diagnosis,” Bellemore said. “And this at the time of their lives when they most needed care and support, how could I not help? The need was obvious, and I am committed to serving people as Jesus did, especially the poor and alienated.”

Mulick said the relationships her patients had were some of the most rewarding aspects of her work.

“I found our clients to be the most patient, peaceful, giving and loving,” Mulick said. “They were so caring about each other. And the love you would see between the partners, the gentleness shown, the compassion and empathy, was very touching.”

The documentary covers the work that Dr. Ries and Snyder did in the treatment of HIV and AIDS patients, along with the assistance of the Sisters, Bellemore said.

“I am glad that I personally don’t get much attention,” Bellemore said. “It is only because I am a Sister of the Holy Cross that I was privileged to be part of a community of wonderful and delightful persons who were so feared and ostracized. I appreciate that this film recognizes that our congregation and hospital took the risk to care for people with HIV and AIDS when others were too frightened to do so.”

Although she did not want the focus to be on herself, Bellemore said she found her role in the documentary to be important if it were to raise awareness of the work done.

“I did not want that kind of publicity, but if this film could increase compassion in the heart of even a few people it would be worth it, especially since the focus was on the loving care given by Dr. Ries and Maggie Snyder,” Bellemore said.