Sister Mary Ellen Kerrigan

Kerrigan, Mary Ellen Portrait“Each week when I sing, laugh and talk with my friends in prison who have HIV infection, together we experience God’s unconditional love for us.”

Sister Mary Ellen Kerrigan entered the Maryknoll sisters in 1958 from Leadville, CO, after receiving her RN from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. Following her first Profession, she served on the nursing staff at Maryknoll for three years and was assigned to Taiwan in 1965.

After two years of Mandarin language study, she worked as a clinic nurse in Wu She until 1969 when she did nursing in Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei.

Returning to the States in 1971, she completed undergraduate studies at Mary Rogers College at Maryknoll, a B.S. in nursing at Russell Sage College, Troy, NY, and her Masters in nursing from New York University of Education in 1976.

After these studies, Sister Mary Ellen returned to Taiwan to work as Nursing Supervisor in the 120-bed St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kaohsiung in the south. After six years, she decided to leave this work in the capable hands of trained Taiwanese nurses.

In 1983, she studied the Taiwanese language in Taichung and then joined a team of three doing pastoral ministry in the Chunan parish. She immersed herself in the language and the many opportunities she had to learn more about the life of the people outside the hospital situation. Sister Mary Ellen deeply appreciated the mutual evangelization in this pastoral ministry. As she grew in her appreciation of the people, she discovered that “the importance of personal relationships rather than the importance of work has affected the way I approach life.”

Called by the congregation to serve in vocation ministry on the admissions team at Maryknoll, NY, in 1987, she had the opportunity to share how she saw God working in her life in mission.

In 1991, after taking courses on HIV/AIDS and the care of those infected and affected by this infection, she went back to Taiwan. IN 1992, she returned to the National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei to try to help the nurses and doctors there. Many of them were very afraid and knew little about the prevention of HIV infection and the care of people with AIDS. As true then as it is now, compassion  was sorely needed in the care of patients and family members who suffered greatly because of their fears and the stigma that accompanies HIV/AIDS. IN 2007, Sister Mary Ellen is still involved as a volunteer with the nursing department at this same hospital striving to help nurses, doctors, patients and family members – anyone who has been infected or affect5ed by HIV/AIDS.  Although there has been a marked improvement in the care of people with HIV/AIDS in Taiwan, there is still much to be done because stigma continues to plague people with HIV/AIDS and those who care for them.

In 1994, Sister Mary Ellen was invited to go to the Taipei Prison in Taoyuan to help answer questions of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS. Before long, it became obvious that, besides learning about HIV/AIDS, their coming together accomplished even more – relationships were formed and soon they were meeting together weekly. This was how this particular ministry for prisoners living with HIV/AIDS began.