Guest Columnists

Brooklyn Nun Reaches to Society’s Untouchables

When American-born nun Sister Annie Credidio moved to Ecuador in the mid-1980s to be a teacher, she attended Mass at a local hospital and noticed that members of the congregation were missing fingers, toes, legs, and teeth. She discovered that this was a hospital for people with Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy). The more she explored the facility and talked to patients, the more she realized how deplorable conditions were.

During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Sister Annie recalled that rats would crawl through broken sewer tops and bite the toes of the patients during the night. And food would be delivered with rat hairs and roaches in it. How, I asked, did she not get scared off by all that? “I’m from Brooklyn!” she answered. “I’m a tough girl from Brooklyn.”

Well, that tough girl from Brooklyn had a heart as big as her courageous spirit, so with the full support of her order – the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – she gave up her teaching job to create a better life for those society deemed “the untouchables.”

The people of Ecuador made her transition to their culture easy because of their warmth.

She said, “I am of Italian descent, and I felt like the Ecuadorians were very much like the Italians: friendly, open door policy, come in and sit down and have something to eat.”

Sister Annie soon began making progress in improving conditions: covering up the sewer pipes, and providing decent meals, mattresses without holes, and mosquito nets during the rainy season.

A cure for Hansen’s had also come on the market so she worked to get treatment for those in the early stages of the disease.

Sister Annie said, “When I first got there, they kept calling me this angel that fell from heaven. I told them, ‘I’m far from being an angel.’ But then I thought their prayers all those years must have been for someone (to really care for them). They knew God was hearing them, and I really do believe that God taps us on the shoulder and puts us where we need to be when the time is right.”

Human Dignity

In 1994, Sister Annie achieved a milestone. Along with her friend Suzanne Belz, she co-founded a legal foundation to which donors could send much-needed money. They called it Damien House, after the sainted priest who cared for Hansen’s patients on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

“There is no office,” Sister Annie explained. “It’s all run by volunteers. Every penny goes straight to Damien House. It provides the medicine, the food that they need, and the dignity and the respect that every human being deserves.”

Nowadays, a group of doctors from the United States, who’ve dubbed themselves “Annie’s Angels,” take a week’s vacation every year, travel to Damien House, and perform free nerve decompression surgeries so patients can regain feeling in their limbs. These physicians feel overwhelmed by the gratitude they receive from their patients, who are able to return to a normal life because of their work.

Sister Annie found the faith of the Hansen’s patients both shocking and personally transformative. She concluded, “They would always say, ‘Si Dios quiere – if God wants.’ I thought, ‘Wow, these people are always mentioning God.’

So many of them needed amputations or eye surgery, they were losing their teeth. Yet they say, ‘If God wants.’ Their spirituality shook me…I thought I knew what faith was about, but I found out that true faith is letting everything go and letting God take over.”


Tony Rossi is the director of communications for The Christophers.

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