When Dominican Sister of Hope Eileen Hollen, OP first meets patients, she is in her hospital office. She is an Adult Health Nurse Practitioner at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and she works specifically with patients who have HIV.
Oftentimes, the patients who sit in front of her are wrought with worry. Yet, when Sister sees patients who feel hopeless or have misconceptions about their diagnoses, her passion comes to life. Within the safety of her office walls, she tells patients that she is with them, that they are journeying together.
At that moment, her desk is not merely a piece of office furniture; it’s an altar. Together, the patients and Sister Eileen share their lives and their stories.
“On my desk, we share the eucharist of who we are as a part of God’s Earth,” Sister says.
Her History of Healing
Sister Eileen’s path to nursing began when she was a child. Her father was a funeral director, and, while she admired his work, she felt that her calling was to heal the sick rather than honor the dead.
“I would tell my dad, ‘You can take care of the dead, and I’ll take care of the living,” Sister Eileen reminisces.
After earning her BSN from Holy Family College and her MSN from the University of Delaware, Sister was a nurse at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. She served as a clinical nurse specialist in cardiology at Presbyterian Hospital Medical Center in Philadelphia from 1991 to 1997, then Sister accepted her current position.
Sister Eileen has loved every job that she’s had in nursing. But, even after nineteen years, she feels especially lucky in her role working with people with HIV.
“Our mission is to minister to the poor, marginalized, and women,” Sister Eileen says. “I get all three, and I get a salary doing it!”
Four years into the job, Sister Eileen gained a new appreciation for the power of healing. She was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2001. At the time, Sister felt the same despair that she recognizes in many of her patients.
She survived, perhaps because of her resolve to continue in her ministry.
“I’m aware that cancer and HIV are different,” Sister Eileen says. “But they both shake you everyday. I give my patients confidence because of my knowledge and my experience. That’s wonderful to impart when you’re scared to death.”
Fifteen years after her own diagnosis, Sister now watches her own patients survive. With medication and the correct knowledge of how to take it, many of her patients live long lives and won’t pass the virus onto their children. As Sister recalls, one of her biggest joys of her job was telling a patient that she could birth the baby she had longed for, despite her diagnosis with HIV.
In dialoguing about topics like pregnancy, sexual identity, sexual history, and their relationship to health, Sister remembers that each of her patients shares her same “humanness.” As Sister Eileen journeys with her patients through difficult matters, she says her biggest gift is “being able to be nonjudgmental.”
“A lot of people have different ideas about spirituality and sexuality, and they’re uncomfortable with a lot of those things, too,” Sister Eileen says. “My patients have struggles: they struggle to make right decisions and be in right relationships. I don’t make decisions for them, and I don’t think anyone should make decisions for them. The joy is always journeying with them.”
As she details her ministry, Sister Eileen is quick to bring up hope. Her charism as a Dominican Sister is to bring hope to others, and, in listening to her patients’ stories and accompanying them on a healing journey, she does just that. No matter where each individual is at, she meets them there. Then, they step out of her office and move toward the future, together.