World AIDS Day: Remembering St. Vincent’s

We remember, too, those individuals and institutions which have worked valiantly as caregivers.   In the early days of the epidemic, St. Vincent’s Hospital, a Catholic institution in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, was a pioneer in providing care. Yesterday, a New York Times blog reported on a competition to design a  new AIDS memorial in St. Vincent’s Triangle Park, New York City, right near the location of the now defunct hospital:

“The goal of the competition is to produce a design for an integrated park, memorial and underground learning center to honor the 100,000 New York City residents who have died from AIDS, as well as to commemorate the efforts of the caregivers, many of them St. Vincent’s professionals, who responded to the crisis. Thirty years ago, St. Vincent’s was at the epicenter of the  epidemic in the city.”

Selecting that location is a wonderful tribute to St. Vincent’s Hospital, which  not only was a leader in HIV/AIDS care, but in promoting equality for lesbian/gay people. In  December, 1973 , St. Vincent’s became the first Catholic institution to adopt a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy (though the term of art back then was “sexual preference”).  The hospital’s “Policy on Hiring Practices” stated:

“The only criteria in all hiring are sufficient experience and proper qualifications to perform a specific job in a specific manner.  Discrimination based on the sexual preference of patients or employees is as unacceptable as any other form of discrimination.”

What courage and vision these Catholic leaders displayed back then, adopting a non-discrimination policy way ahead of many of the secular institutions  of the day!

On this World AIDS Day, let us pray for today’s Catholic leaders to display similar courage and vision  in the care of HIV/AIDS patients,  in the prevention of the disease, and in ending all discrimination  directed towards lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people.  Let us pray, too, for all those who continue to be affected by HIV/AIDS.  And, of course, our ultimate prayer is that there will soon be an end to this illness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry