My partners in Hope,
This week marked the first-ever National Catholic Sisters Week. The week-long celebration is a key initiative in a new plan to raise awareness about the many profound contributions by Women Religious in the fields of social justice, women’s leadership, health care, education and, of course, housing, just to name a few. This inaugural National Catholic Sisters Week is something that should interest all supporters of Mercy Housing, given the role and legacy of the Sisters in our organization.
In 1981, Sister Norita Cooney, RSM, signed a check for $500,000 that launched Mercy Housing. Mercy Housing holds $2.7 billion (with a “B”) in real estate assets and has welcomed home more than 151,000 families and individuals.
And yet, in the US today, over 46 million people, including 16 million children, still live in poverty. The gap between wages and the cost of living has been widening for years. The supply of affordable housing for people living on lower incomes is totally inadequate to meet the ever rising need. The cost of food, health care, transportation and education continues to grow while wages are stagnant or declining. And over the last 10 years, government resources to programs that assist these families have been drastically cut.
These may feel like insurmountable obstacles.
But when the first Catholic Sisters arrived in this country more than 300 years ago, they faced what some believed were insurmountable obstacles, then, too. Like all of us working on behalf of everyone who calls Mercy Housing “home” today, these women forged ahead without fear. They knew that they were doing God’s work. The Sisters overcame struggles and prejudices to establish those institutional ministries in health care, education, housing and other social services that remain the foundation for our work today.
But they didn’t do it alone.
From the very start they needed and welcomed others who wanted to join them. The Sisters were the spark. But they needed partners… doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, builders, bankers and anyone else willing to join their efforts. The communities of Women Religious today stand on the shoulders of the Sisters who have blazed the trails before us. And like the Sisters before us, we still need each and every one of you to continue to work alongside us as we address today’s needs.
One question I am often asked is, “What challenges are the Sisters facing today?”
Well, we are fewer in number. But I believe we are more vibrant than ever before. Amazing people have joined us in our efforts and believe, as we do, that every person has a right to respect, justice and mercy.
It is an incredible privilege be a member of a community of Women Religious who commit their lives and resources to serving those living on the economic margins of our society. Women who act on their belief that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and deserve our respect. To be in the company of women who have dedicated their lives to God and the service of His church and people is truly an honor. To live among them is to experience the depth and intensity of their passion for service and their creativity and skill in finding multiple ways to overcome obstacles to that service.
In the face of the very real economic and social challenges we grapple with today, we cannot be discouraged. We must be like those first Catholic Sisters who landed on this country’s shores so many years ago. Bold! Fearless! And undeterred!
We cannot let the voices of greed, fear and hate dominate local, state and national discussions when so much is at stake for so many people who need our help. We need to continue to be strong advocates with, and for, those seeking social and economic justice. For as long as there is one among us who is deprived of the basic necessities of life, we are all diminished.
There may be fewer Sisters today. But we’re certainly not gone. And as long as there are people just like you who believe in the same values of respect, justice and mercy for all people, we never will be.
Our spirit lives in everyone who supports Mercy Housing every day… women and men. People of faith and people of good will.
This is hard work. There is no question about that. Thank you for supporting it, anyway.
Believe in our Mission. Believe in yourselves. Believe in each other.
Happy National Catholic Sisters Week!
Live in Hope!
Sister Lillian Murphy, RSM
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER | Mercy Housing, Inc.