The first patient at the Poverello Health Center in Syracuse, New York was a man living on the streets. Sister James Peter Ridgeo joked that he had more nurses than he needed as everyone rushed to treat him. That was 19 years ago. Since then, hundreds of people in need have found free health care, friendship and healing inside.
The clinic itself is part of Northside Ministries, and is staffed by volunteer physicians, nurses, and specialists. But its driving force is coordinator of medical services Sister James Peter (JP) Ridgeo and SisterDolores (Dolly) Bush. True to their Franciscan spiritual gifts, they treat the whole person — spiritual, emotional and physical.
Sister James Peter “JP” Ridgeo knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life at the age of 10. Her parents had taken the family to see “The Nun’s Story,” a 1959 movie starring Audrey Hepburn as a young woman who enters the convent, becomes a nurse and ministers in a health clinic in Africa.
“Right then I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a nun and a nurse and go to Africa,” Sister James Peter says. While Audrey Hepburn’s character leaves the convent at the end of the movie, Sister JP never wavered. She took some time for college and dating but “I knew in my heart of hearts that this is where I was meant to be.” She accomplished all three goals she established for herself as a fifth grader.
Sister JP also has ministered at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Mercy Rehab Center and as a medical/surgical nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital, all in central New York. She now is the co-director of Northside Ministries.
Mutual friends connected Sisters JP Ridgeo and Dolly Bush with Syracuse general surgeon Dr. Brian Anderson, and it wasn’t long after that he agreed to volunteer one day a month at the Syracuse Northside Ministries clinic.
“I thought I would be doing surgery, but people needed primary care,” he recalls. “Working at the clinic was a real eye opener and so different from private practice. Many patients were people just trying to get by and not doing very well. That’s where JP and Dolly come in.” Even after a busy day, Dr. Anderson looks forward to his time at the clinic. “Sister Dolly is my comic encourager, and Sister JP is the go-to and get-it-done person. No matter how busy they are, they always take the time to truly hear people, care for them, and inspire us all to have deeper compassion for human beings.”
Along with volunteering, Dr. Anderson has supported our Sisters through our annual Fairway to Heaven Golf Tournament. This year, he and his wife, Terri, made a generous gift to our community in honor of Sisters JP and Dolly. “These sisters are making a real difference and their love is contagious. We’re glad to help.”