Heroic Virtues of Italian Nuns Who Died Caring for Ebola Patients in DR Congo Recognized

Photos of Sor Vitarosa Zorza (L), Sr. Danielangela Sorti (C), and Sr. Annelvira Ossoli (R) who died of Ebola in DRC in 1995

Pope Francis has issued a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of three additional Italian Catholic Nuns who succumbed to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1995.

The three Nuns of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor, the Palazzolo Institute whose heroic virtues were recognized Thursday, March 18 include Servant of God Annelvira Ossoli also known as Celeste Maria, Servant of God Vitarosa Zorza, and Servant of God Danielangela Sorti.

The three Nuns join three other members of the same Institute whose heroic virtues the Holy Father recognized on February 20.

The six Nuns succumbed to the virus while attending to Ebola patients at the Kikwit civic hospital within the country’s Catholic Diocese of Kikwit in Southwestern DRC.

The other three Palazzolo Sisters who succumbed to the epidemic and whose heroic virtues were recognized earlier include Sr. Floralba Rondi, 71; Sr. Clarangela Ghilardi, 64; and Sr. Dinarosa Belleri, 58.


Nicknamed the “Ebola Sisters,” the six succumbed to the epidemic, which was the second outbreak of its kind in DRC, between 25 April and 28 May 1995.

With their heroic virtues recognized, the six Nuns will now be referred to as Venerable, one-step to beatification and two steps to canonization.

The three Nuns whose virtues Pope Francis recognized during his meeting with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Marcello Cardinal Semeraro on March 18, had reportedly, together with the other three, assisted in the operation of a patient who, unknown to them, had the Ebola virus.

48-year-old Sr. Danielangela Sorti had worked as a nurse in the Central African nation since 1976. She succumbed to the epidemic on 11 May 1995 at Kikwit, five days after the members of the Palazzolo community realized that they were dealing with Ebola.

Her death was followed by that of 59-year-old Sr. Annelvira Ossoli who died on 23 May 1995. She had offered her services as a nurse in DRC for 33 years.

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Three days later, Sr. Vitarosa Zorza became the last of the six “Ebola Sisters” to succumb to the disease. The 52-year-old had arrived in Kikwit in 1983, after being stationed in DRC’s Archdiocese of Kinshasa. 

She is said to have insisted on going to Kikwit to assist as the first outbreak of the epidemic hit harder.

"It was heartbreaking one day to the next to hear the news: Someone is sick, then getting better, then a relapse, then death," the Washington Post quoted Sr. Bakita Sartore, a member of the Institute’s governing board in Italy, as saying on 23 June 1995.

Making reference to the Palazzolo Sisters Fr. John Hogan, OCDS wrote on his blog on 4 August 2014, “Faced with the horrors of the epidemic, each of the Sisters had to make a personal decision.”

Fr. Hogan added, “Drawing on the example and charism of their founder Blessed Luigi Palazzolo, they reiterated their dedication to the poor and the sick, for whom they were founded, and accepted their inevitable death in order to care for the sick and dying.”


Following the death of the six Nuns and the resultant uncertainty about the Ebola epidemic, the Palazzolo Sisters in DRC wrote a fax to their Mother General in Bergamo, Italy saying, in part, “We understand your trepidation, but we are totally in God's hands. No evacuation can be done. It is very hard for you and us to accept this separation from the Sisters.”

The Nuns continued, “Painful events have overwhelmed us but the life of the Congregation must continue; the situation is quite dramatic especially inside. But it is necessary to remain calm. In Kinshasa there are no outbreaks and all the roads towards the interior are blocked.”

Founded in 1869 by Italian Priest, Blessed Luigi Maria Palazzolo, Sisters of the Poor serve the poor, orphans as well as the sick.

In Africa, besides DRC, the Palazzolo Sisters also serve in Kenya, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast.