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Sister Rose shares life in Papua New Guinea PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, January 31, 2013 2:35 PM

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DELPHOS — St. John’s students were transported to the “Land of the Unexpected” as Sister Rose Bernard told of her mission work in Papua New Guinea on Tuesday.

Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous islands. Sister Rose served the people of PNG since 1964, starting as a grade-school teacher.

“I arrived in Papua New Guinea on Sept. 1 in 1964 and was teaching on Sept. 2,” she said. “The first thing I noticed was girls were terminated from school in the sixth grade. So, we built a new school for girls to teach them village life with classes on agriculture and animal husbandry, for example.”

Sister Rose then worked in the prison ministry as a probation officer for eight years, helping inmates get early release and work privileges.

“One day I was traveling and I was held up on the road and my car was stolen and I was almost kidnapped,” she said “I think that was God telling me to do something else. That’s when I started working with the HIV/AIDS patients.”

The population of PNG is approximately 7,013,800. With nearly 1 percent of the adult population testing positive for HIV or suffering with AIDS, her work was cut out for her.



“I always felt their shame and their helplessness,” Sister Rose said. “Then God told me, ‘Don’t feel it; do something about it.’ So I taught myself more about it. We didn’t have TVs or radio so we didn’t known a lot about it.”

Sister Rose was met with resistance from doctors because they were more concerned with malaria, which was killing more people than AIDS, so she built her own HIV/AIDS program.

“There were only two doctors in the whole country interested,” she said.

The sheriff of her parish knew of two cases and he asked her to go tell them they had the virus. At first, Sister Rose was apprehensive. Those with the virus were often ostracized, rejected by their families and communities or even killed.

“How was I going to find these people without letting everyone else know they were sick?” she asked herself.

So began her journey to educate a nation on HIV/AIDS and make those in the last stages comfortable and at peace.

“They thought AIDS could be transmitted by touch. They were afraid of those who had it needed educated on the fact their loved ones can still live a good life and don’t have to be rejected,” she said. “They don’t have to live alone or be outcasts.”

Sister Rose dedicated the rest of her time in PNG to tracking down HIV/AIDS patients, educating the population on HIV/AIDS and how it is transmitted and setting up voluntary counseling and testing centers.

“Those centers were a marvel for these people. They lived in grass huts with bamboo walls and dirt floors and these trailers and small houses we built were wonderful to them,” Sister Rose said.

Oftentimes she wold track down someone who had visited a testing center and was found positive. She would sit with them and have a meal with them to show others they couldn’t get the virus by just being around them or eating with them. She would even trade food with them to show it couldn’t be transmitted that way.

The longtime missionary is now retired. She has been a Sister of Notre Dame for 61 years, 47 of which she spent in Papua New Guinea.

“The Lord told me it was time to come home,” she said. “I didn’t want to become a burden on the other sisters who still have so muck work to do there. If I would be come sick or hurt, they would have to take care of me.”

Arriving back in the U.S., she found more culture shock than when she arrived in PNG.

“It seems our values here have changed,” she said sadly. “Christianity doesn’t seem as strong. We are very materialistic and focused on instant gratification. We all need to learn the gifts God has given us to help others and see how we can use them.”


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