The time was 1990, when little was known about HIV/AIDS . Sr. Maureen Skelly, a Sister of Charity – Halifax, was a spiritual director on the staff of Mount Manresa, the Jesuit retreat house on Staten Island. Even though many wrongly feared that they would catch HIV/AIDS just by being with someone who had it, Sr. Maureen says proudly, “Manresa took a leap of faith and began offering a ‘Day of Comfort’ for those afflicted with the virus or full blown AIDS.”
In six years, the Day of Comfort grew from 10 people in an afternoon to over 100 folks for a weekend.
Two key “awakenings” surfaced during those years. First, a new Director confronted fears and misconceptions of kitchen and housekeeping staff head-on. Second, the preaching staff at Manresa realized that they were not equipped to address the needs of “the folks.”
Sr. Maureen formed a team of HIV/AIDS men and women to be in charge of the program. They recommended and chose speakers, determined a theme and advertised the weekends. She describes a “Comfort Weekend” as “a blend of 12 step spirituality, healing meditations, time to be prayed over, and time to rest.” The staff also used healing energy practices, and taught them to participants.
“We make sure that laughter and fun are an important part of the weekend,” Sr. Maureen says, especially what came to be known as the Saturday evening “Lack of Talent Show.” She hastens to explain that the Manresa staff “are the lack part”; the talents of the retreatants include “poetry reading, Gospel singers, skits, magic shows, and don¹t forget the dancing. AND the pizza party afterwards.” Sr. Grazyna Michniewicz, SC, and other Sisters and Associates from the community contribute many hours to support the weekends and spread God’s healing love in hundreds of ways.
Sunday morning begins with a memorial service in which each person takes a red ribbon, universal symbol of AIDS, and promises to pray for the person named. After everyone views a Power Point presentation of the retreat, created by one of the staff members, the Weekend of Comfort closes with a blessing given by the HIV team to each participant. Everyone leaves believing that, as the weekend theme proclaims, “Love Changes Everything.”
Source: Sisters of Charity Federation website (link no longer active)