‘A Tremendous Gift’: A Nun Remembers her Adopted Daughter on World AIDS Day

December 1, 2019

By Catherine Walsh, Communications Specialist

World AIDS Day occurs on December 1st every year.

As a Sister of Mercy, Mary Ann LoGiudice never imagined that she would also be a mother, let alone of a little girl who would die in her arms of AIDS.

But more than a quarter century after her adopted daughter Barbara’s death, Sister Mary Ann is sharing her story on World AIDS Day for a simple reason. “It’s important to me that people know what a tremendous gift Barbara was in my life and in the lives of so many others,” she says. “Her illness was secondary to her life.”

This Christmas photo is one of Sister Mary Ann’s favorites.
This Christmas photo is one of Sister Mary Ann’s favorites.

Sister Mary Ann has also shared Barbara’s story in an oral history recording and in That Place Called Home, a memoir she wrote with journalist Paul Grondahl. On World AIDS Day 2019, she remembers her daughter as “a very bright and curious child, a very sensitive and loving child.” With a soft laugh, Sister Mary Ann adds, “And she was fun! She was very clever and loved telling jokes and singing songs.”

Sister Mary Ann in 1968 after her first vows as a Sister of Mercy.
Sister Mary Ann in 1968 after her first vows as a Sister of Mercy.

But Sister Mary Ann also notes that Barbara’s story isn’t just about a child with a fatal illness connecting with a sister who was eager to care for her; it’s also the story of the Sisters of Mercy and their supporters, and how this order of Catholic women religious responded to the AIDS crisis with bravery and love.

“When it was very, very early in the AIDS epidemic and there were a lot of unknowns, a lot of fear and prejudice, we opened the first licensed residence for children with HIV and AIDS in New York State,” Sister Mary Ann recalls.

Known as Farano House, the residence was part of a Catholic Charities agency in Albany called Community Maternity Services (CMS). Its guests were mostly “boarder babies” from New York City hospitals who, born to drug-addicted mothers, had been deemed too dangerous to place in foster care because of their medical condition. The late Sister Maureen Joyce, who was Sister Mary Ann’s manager and mentor at CMS, found foster homes for 100 of these children, mostly in the far-flung Albany diocese that covers 14 urban and rural counties.

Daughter and mother enjoy Albany’s Washington Park, 1991. 

AIDS
Daughter and mother enjoy Albany’s Washington Park, 1991.

But it wasn’t easy to find a home for Barbara, who was one of the home’s first guests when she arrived on January 27, 1988, and, at age three-and-a-half, its oldest resident.

Although Sister Mary Ann didn’t work in Farano House—her ministry was with unwed teenage mothers—she enjoyed helping to feed and bathe its young residents in the evenings. She soon found herself “spellbound” by Barbara, who borrowed her bangle bracelets and snuggled in her lap for bedtime stories.

Sister Mary Ann and Barbara at a 1991 family wedding.
Sister Mary Ann and Barbara at a 1991 family wedding.

When Sister Mary Ann mentioned to Sister Maureen that if she weren’t a Sister of Mercy, she would seek to become Barbara’s foster parent, Sister Maureen encouraged her to ask the leaders of the Albany Sisters of Mercy for permission. “[She] told me, ‘What have you got to lose?’”

What followed was a remarkable series of events that unfolded for Sister Mary Ann, Barbara, the Albany Sisters of Mercy and their many friends and family members.

Not only did the Sisters of Mercy—after much discussion and prayer—allow Sister Mary Ann to become Barbara’s foster mother and then her adoptive mother, but support also came from Bishop Howard Hubbard, numerous priests, sisters and lay staff, and nearly everyone else who learned of Sister Mary Ann and Barbara’s mutual need.

Barbara and Sister Mary Ann on Barbara’s First Communion day, 1992. “Barbara had deep faith even though she was a little girl,” says her mom.  World AIDS Day
Barbara and Sister Mary Ann on Barbara’s First Communion day, 1992. “Barbara had deep faith even though she was a little girl,” says her mom.

For five years, until Barbara’s death on June 19, 1993, Sister Mary Ann and Barbara were a family. At first, says Mary Ann, “it was a real shock” to have complete responsibility for a child. She notes, laughing, “Barbara taught me a lot of wonderful lessons in her short life. One of the immediate ones was a deeper understanding of all the young women I worked with at Community Maternity Services, who were young parents and didn’t have the kind of support I had.”

Mother and daughter felt their way along as a family, recalls Sister Mary Ann. She continued her Community Maternity Services ministry while Barbara received day care at Farano House and later attended school. Happy times included holiday celebrations, Cape Cod summer vacations, a Disney World trip, Barbara’s first communion.

Christmas joy is shared by Amanda and Barbara, who became best friends despite different personalities. “Barbara could be bossy, while Amanda was laid back,” says Sister Mary Ann. The girls had to have monthly blood tests due to their HIV / AIDS status.
Christmas joy is shared by Amanda and Barbara, who became best friends despite different personalities. “Barbara could be bossy, while Amanda was laid back,” says Sister Mary Ann. The girls had to have monthly blood tests due to their HIV status.

Another source of joy, says Sister Mary Ann, was Barbara’s friendship with Amanda, a girl her age who was also HIV-positive and had lived at Farano House before being adopted.

“The girls became best friends and soul mates,” she says quietly. “Unfortunately, they died within a couple of months of each other.”

Sister Mary Ann says she will always be “eternally grateful” to the Albany Sisters of Mercy for the opportunity to be Barbara’s mother. “The Sisters of Mercy are known for taking risks and responding to the needs of the times, and that was certainly true of the AIDS crisis,” she reflects.

“Children with HIV and AIDS, like Barbara and Amanda, can still teach us all larger lessons about the dignity of every human being, and for that I am also grateful.”


Check out the video below for a few more photos and stories of Sister Mary Ann and Barbara


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  1. Barb Giehl

    Oh how proud Catherine is!!
    A beautiful story of how the Sisters of Mercy responded to the needs of the time, and did what needed to be done !!! ❤️❤️


  2. Jane Francisco

    What a beautiful story of two beautiful lives.To Sister Mary Ann and the many Sisters of Mercy who have mothered others-kudos!


  3. Sr Jackie Moreau

    Wow! What a blessing and joy. Thanks for sharing this life story.


  4. Kathy Schongar

    Those of us who knew Barbara will always remember her smile and her courage. Mary Ann and Barbara broke down misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and offered unconditional love to each other and those with HIV when that was not a popular choice. Like Catherine, Mary Ann opened wide Mercy’s door and paved the way for new and innovative ministries to meet the needs of the day.


  5. Doris Gottemoeller, RSM

    What a lovely gift! Thanks for sharing.


  6. Sister Natalie Rosso

    Beautiful example of walking with the Christ.
    Thanks to you and the Albany community


  7. Richard Mary Burke

    Mary Ann, thank you ever so much for sharing your life story with Barbara. Your faith, courage and generous gift of self on behalf of Barbara and all those with whom you journey are blessings of inspiration and promise!


  8. Shirley Poll

    Beautiful story. Beautiful little girl and lucky to have Sister in her life.


  9. Ellen Halligan

    I had the privilege to know Barbara and sister Marianne .while volunteering at the Farano Center. The book about them. A place called home is a beautiful estory. I am so happy to have known them. I also have to add that without the help of Maureen Joyce and Howard Hubbard this miracle May never have happened God Bless. Ellen Quinn Halligan


  10. Ruth Neely RSM, CRNP

    Ever grateful for sharing your relationship with Barbara on this World Aids Day.
    The story touched me deeply,


  11. Patricia Otillio

    What a touching and beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it! Makes one proud to be a Mercy!


  12. Tom Regan

    I may God Bless You Sister and Barbara.She is with Our Lord .I had the Pleasure of knowing Both.


  13. CAROLE JOANNE HEATH

    SHE IS MY SON-IN-LAW’S AUNT


  14. Connie Ann Trump

    Mary Ann and Barbara will always be together, separated only by a thin veil now; two beautiful souls who found each other, enriched each other and rocked their world and that of so many others. “Love never fails………at present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then, face to face.” 1 Corinthians; 13


  15. Jeannine Burch

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of unconditional love!