As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in the United States and the Capital District, the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham.


Since December, nine sisters have died from COVID-19 as nearly half of the residents have become infected during an outbreak at the Provincial House that has affected 47 sisters and 26 employees since October. 


“Like all members of our global community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have been struggling with the tragic consequences of COVID-19. We are mourning the loss of nine beloved sisters to this awful disease,” said Sister Joan Mary Hartigan, CSJ, and director of the Albany Province, in a statement to The Evangelist.

 

Sister Joan Mary said of the 47 sisters, most have recovered, but three sisters at the Provincial House are being treated by their personal physicians for the virus. The nine sisters who died ranged in age from 84-98. Twenty-one employees who tested positive have recovered while five staff members are quarantining at home. 

 

“The Provincial House is following all CDC and New York State Department of Health guidelines to limit the spread of the virus to the greatest extent possible, including using appropriate personal protective equipment, quarantining sisters who are COVID-19 positive, and prohibiting all public access,” Sister Joan Mary said.  “We pray the increasing number of cases across our country is temporary, and we mourn the loss not only of our nine sisters but also the loss of all life during this pandemic. We look forward to the vaccine and the end of this worldwide health crisis.”

 

The Albany Times Union had first reported on Dec. 30 that nine sisters had died during the outbreak. Information in this story was also first reported by The New York Times but confirmed in an emailed statement from Sister Joan Mary.


The Provincial House in Latham, located seven miles from Albany, is the headquarters of the Albany Province and home to 114 sisters; many are retired and in need of long-term care. According to its website, the congregation was founded in 1650 by six sisters in LePuy, France. There are nearly 1,000 sisters — there is also a province in St. Louis — serving in the United States, Peru and Japan.


Since Thanksgiving, cases have skyrocketed across the country and in upstate New York. And with the recently-celebrated Christmas and New Year’s holidays, many fear the worst is yet to come in January. The positivity rate, based on a seven-day average, which has been as high as 12.4 percent in Albany County, currently is 10.5 percent and 10.8 percent in Schenectady County, according to  the state’s COVID dashboard.


"All of us at the Diocese of Albany are praying for the Sisters during this challenging time,” said Mary DeTurris Poust, director of communications for the Diocese of Albany. “In addition to the loss of so many beloved Sisters who served others so selflessly for decades, there is the added difficulty of not being able to celebrate their lives as a community due to COVID restrictions. As for so many people who have lost loved ones in recent months, the already difficult task grieving is made even more difficult by isolation and lack of closure.”


The recent rise in infections and deaths is all the more unsettling when you take into account the stringent procedures the sisters have had in place since the pandemic started in March such as ending public access and visits to the Provincial House, including from sisters who live outside the house, and canceling events, meetings and programs.


Nursing homes have been hit hard by the pandemic across the nation. Catholic News Service reported on Dec. 18 that eight sisters, including four on one day, from Notre Dame of Elm Grove in suburban Milwaukee had died from COVID in less than a week. Much like with the Sisters of St. Joseph, CNS reported that even with the precautions in place since March, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province, who are based in St. Louis and care for the nuns, learned of a positive case within the community around Thanksgiving. The first death reportedly happened Dec. 9, but the deadliest date came Dec. 14 when four nuns died. Many of them had been teachers