Nicknamed the “Ebola Sisters,” the six succumbed to the epidemic, which was the second outbreak of its kind in the country, between 25 April and 28 May 1995.
According to the spokesman of the Bergamo, Italy-based Congregation, Fr. Arturo Bellini, 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 February 20, had assisted in the operation of a patient who, unknown to them, had the Ebola virus.
Sr. Floralba Rondi, 71 who had served in the Central African nation for 43 years and who was the head nurse at the time died on 25 April 1995 for what was suspected to be malarial fever. She died in Mosango, 75 miles West of Kikwit, the epicenter of Ebola in DRC at the time.
It was not until 64-year-old obstetrics nurse, Sr. Clarangela Ghillardi died on 6 May 1995 at Kikwit that the members of the Palazzolo community realized that they were dealing with Ebola. 58-year-old Sr. Dinarosa Belleri succumbed to the disease on 14 May 1995 at Kikwit.
"If only they had known, they would have taken precautions earlier," Fr. Bellini was quoted as saying by the New York Times referencing the Italian-born Nuns and added, “But even the health authorities in Zaire (DRC) did not know what they were up against."
“Faced with the horrors of the epidemic, each of the Sisters had to make a personal decision,” Fr. John Hogan, OCDS wrote on his blog on 4 August 2014, referencing the Palazzolo Sisters.
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, “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 added, “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.”
Reacting to the news of the recognition of the heroic virtues of the three Nuns, the Bishop of Italy’s Bergamo Diocese, Francesco Beschi described them as "Martyrs of charity" and remarked, “There is no greater love than giving one's life like Jesus.”