#MakeMercyReal through Friendship

Sister Nancy Nance helps Lorraine Giannini assemble chocolate Kiss flowers at Cherubs Candy Bouquet in Belmont, North Carolina.
Sister Nancy Nance helps Lorraine Giannini assemble chocolate Kiss flowers at Cherubs Candy Bouquet in Belmont, North Carolina.
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By Beth Rogers Thompson

Lorraine Giannini arrived in Belmont, North Carolina, as a crying 8-month-old in her parents’ arms. Today, at age 54, she has lived at Holy Angels longer than any other residents.

The Giannini family lived in Brooklyn, New York. Lorraine’s parents brought Lorraine, who was born with Down syndrome, to The Nursery (as Holy Angels was known then), where she grew up and thrived in the care of Sisters of Mercy.

When Friends Become Family

As a resident in one of Holy Angels’ first group homes, Lorraine developed a lasting bond with Sister Nancy Nance, who is vice president of community relations at Holy Angels and was a caretaker at the group home for 16 years. Sister Nancy’s relationship with Lorraine and her family has grown over the past 30 years.

“We’re very grateful. We feel very blessed,” says Karen Jarvis, Lorraine’s sister and guardian, who is a speech and language pathologist with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

After moving to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 25 years ago, the family was able to come see Lorraine more often, and she could go there for visits as well. Karen and her mother, Jean, still live in Winston-Salem; Lorraine’s father, Natale, died several years ago.

The family takes comfort in knowing Lorraine is in a nurturing environment and that she enjoys companionship with Sister Nancy.

“We consider Sister Nancy part of our family,” Karen says. Sister Nancy attended Karen’s wedding, a reunion and the celebration of a great-aunt’s 100th birthday, among other gatherings. “She’s in some of our family photos with Lorraine,” Karen says.

Living Life to the Fullest at Holy Angels

The friendship with Sister Nancy, in addition to the programs at Holy Angels, has greatly enriched Lorraine’s life, Karen says. “It’s phenomenal. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done. She has a very full life–she gets to go to plays and restaurants. She wouldn’t have had any of that.”

Lorraine now lives in the Gary group home, named for the late Charlotte Observer columnist Kays Gary, who frequently wrote about Holy Angels and its residents. Lorraine has cooked at Cherubs Café (a restaurant run by Holy Angels in downtown Belmont) and works at the café’s adjacent candy shops. In addition, she performs in Holy Angels’ dance troupe and bell choir. She and Sister Nancy enjoy going to movies together–Lorraine is a big fan of Wonder Woman–and out to dinner.

“Lorraine is such a joy in my life,” Sister Nancy says. “When my day-to-day schedule gets too hectic and Lorraine doesn’t hear from me, she will find me and remind me that it is time to go to the ‘film.’ It’s really not about the movie (although we both enjoy them); it’s more about spending time with one another. When I’m with Lorraine, our time together is filled with Mercy moments.”

Learn More about Holy Angels

Holy Angels, founded by the Sisters of Mercy 62 years ago, provides specialized care for children and adults with intellectual developmental disabilities. Most of its 88 residents have delicate medical conditions and require 24-hour care. With a staff of more than 300 and some 100 volunteers, the ministry offers a wide array of services, including medical services, physical therapy, special education, vocational training, supported employment opportunities, creative arts, recreation, horticulture therapy, spiritual opportunities, and family support services.