Meet the Sisters
Gifted By God
Since 2003, Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Franette Hyc has ministered as a research nurse with the University of Cincinnati in its Infectious Disease Center. Sister has cared for and worked with persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS through the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit. A question-and-answer with S. Franette follows.
Since 2003, S. Franette Hyc has ministered as a research nurse with the Universityof Cincinnatiin its . Sister has cared for and worked with persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS through the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit. Infectious Disease Center
What was the inspiration for your current ministry?
For the last 15 years the focus of my ministry has been caring for and working with persons living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. I do not know exactly what drew me to this specific ministry, but as I reflect on my life, I have always been drawn to persons not easily accepted by society – the aged, the disabled, the mentally challenged, and the dying. Persons living with HIV/AIDS, unfortunately, were and still are persons who often find themselves in the margins of society because of society’s fear of the disease, and for those who are homosexual because of their sexual orientation.
I believe that every person has been gifted in some way by God. We are all called to learn how we have been gifted. Some have gifts for parenting, teaching, cooking, serving, nursing, managing, handling money, transporting, etc. I have come to believe that how we touch the lives of those we come in contact with tell us if what we are doing is just a job or a ministry. Are we welcoming, accepting, open, caring and understanding?
After 20 years of working with the aged, disabled and dying I took a sabbatical. Following a period of discernment something internally drew me in the direction of learning about HIV/AIDS. For some people that internal draw may be their heart or their intellect. For me, it was my gut. I soon started volunteering with our local AIDS organization and sat with a 2-year-old child dying of AIDS. I became a buddy to a young African-American living with AIDS. Walking hand-in-hand at local festivals drew many eyes wanting an explanation, as did having him over for dinner. I was his sponsor at his confirmation and spoke at his funeral. I then volunteered in a group home for persons with AIDS and eventually worked as an AIDS hospice nurse, then home care nurse, and now I work with patients as a research nurse.
Why and how is your ministry relevant in today’s ever-changing culture?
We will always have with us persons with special needs and persons who are not as easily accepted by society for whatever the reason. It has been more than 25 years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Despite all the education that has been made available regarding HIV/AIDS, people are still afraid of those who have it; people think they can’t get it; and many still believe that it is a homosexual disease.
In the United States, HIV/AIDS has become a chronic disease. People with it are living longer and healthier lives. Deaths from AIDS have greatly declined; however, we are seeing an increase in the number of new HIV cases, especially in the age group of 18 to 25 and in our elderly population. It is on the increase in our heterosexual population and especially among women of color.
There continues to be a need for education and research for the prevention of and treatment of HIV and AIDS. We are actually seeing an increase in the number of young people (age18-25) coming on research studies so that they can obtain their medications which are usually provided on a study. This gives us the opportunity to provide them with further education about the disease and to help them cope with the many issues they must face. For our patients who are homosexual, often they have not felt free to disclose their sexual orientation to their family and friends. We are able to be a support for them at these most difficult times.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your ministry?
There are two major challenges that have an affect on my ministry, the position of the Catholic Church (and other churches) on homosexuality, and its position on abstinence being the only acceptable method of prevention. Since I work with persons who are homosexual, and I know that abstinence does not work for everyone, I am in constant discernment about these issues. I hope that in time the Catholic Church will change its position on these issues.
When I initially entered the realm of HIV care 15 years ago I never identified myself as a religious with my patients because I knew that many felt they would not be accepted and their care may be affected because of their sexual orientation. I frequently would have a mother meet me at the door and say, ‘my son is not homosexual,’ and would proceed to tell me how he got HIV. They would eventually say, ‘you are a “nun” aren’t you?’ Somehow they knew, even though I did not wear a habit. An atmosphere of acceptance had been created. Today, I sill do not wear a habit and I do not make a point to tell my patients that I am a religious. Acceptance remains an issue for persons with HIV/AIDS. Their comfort with their caregiver is an important aspect of their healing. As time goes by, they know who I am and it does not matter. Patients share with me the struggles they had and still do experience because they are homosexual, and/or now because the have HIV/AIDS. These issues can range from self acceptance, family, school, friends, church, the workplace, health care, insurance, etc … not to mention the disease itself. Some have found acceptance by their church, others have found comfort in their own developed spirituality/faith, and others still feel the sting of rejection.
If we are going to get this disease under control our children and teenagers need to be educated about HIV and AIDS and its prevention. This needs to be done before they enter our research clinic. We need to provide this education in our schools, churches, and within the home. Today, girls are reaching puberty at age 7. Many teens are sexually active at an early age. Abstinence may be the preferred and best method of prevention, but we must be realistic, it cannot be the only method of prevention.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction?
I believe that I experience the greatest satisfaction when the patients I work with, whether newly diagnosed or long-term patients with HIV and/or AIDS, come to realize that they can get the virus under control, improve their overall health, and live a productive (normal) life with HIV. They come to realize that they are living with HIV/AIDS and not dying from HIV/AIDS. It takes much determination and discipline on their part but they can, and many do, succeed in getting the virus under control. For those who have difficulty doing so, or relapse, we continue to support them and work with them.