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

Photos of Sr. Floralba Rondi (left), Sr.Clarangela Ghilardi (centre), and Sr.Dinarosa Belleri (right) who died of Ebola in DRC in 1995
Credit: Courtesy Photo

Pope Francis has issued a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of three Italian Catholic Nuns who succumbed to Ebola, which they contracted when caring for Ebola patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1995.

The three Nuns whose heroic virtues the Holy Father recognized Saturday, February 20 include Servant of God Floralba Rondi, Servant of God Clarangela Ghilardi, and Servant of God Dinarosa Belleri.

The three are among six Italian members of the Palazzolo Institute who 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.

With their heroic virtues recognized, the three Nuns of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor, the Palazzolo Institute, will now be referred to as Venerable, one step to beatification and two steps to canonization.

The other three Palazzolo Sisters who succumbed to the epidemic include Sr. Danielangela Sorti, 47; Sr. Annelvira Ossoli, 58; and Sr. Vitarosa Zorza, 51.

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.”

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.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

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