Patricia O’Roark Remembers Sister Carolyn Coffey

‘My hat is off to you, kiddo.’ – Patricia O’Roark

I worked with Sr Carolyn when she was President of Mercy Housing Midwest for several years. She shared with me several times that she was “in over her head.” After all, she had been educated to be an educator, and she was very successful both in the classroom and as a principal for much of her professional career. However, when she met Sr Lillian Murphy, shortly after Sr Lillian became the president of Mercy Housing, she caught the bug and took a huge step out of her comfort zone to become the first development leader in what became Mercy Housing Midwest. Her first office was in a closet of Bergan Mercy Hospital, but, as she reported to Sr Lillian, “The rent was right” (The space was free!). The rest, as they say, is history.

Sister Carolyn

Sr Carolyn may not have been trained as a ‘houser,’ but she brought her organizational skills, her attention to detail, her absolute discipline in professional matters, and many other skills that had served her so well in education into the realm of housing development. Her discipline and raw courage resulted in the array of properties that we now call Mercy Housing Midwest.

I don’t think Sr Carolyn was ever really comfortable in her newfound career, but she didn’t let it stop her. I don’t think she felt particularly successful, but she was. Perhaps, now she can see her work for the wonderful success it was. I know this: she never lost sight of the ‘why’ of what she was doing. It was always about the folks living in the properties that Mercy Housing Midwest built or bought and repurposed for affordable housing. It was a privilege to work with Sr Carolyn, and as I told her several times, ‘my hat is off to you, kiddo.’

I also know this: Sr Carolyn would be thrilled, as I am thrilled, to know that, at long last, she has a successor, and I know that she would welcome Shelly Marquez with open arms!

-Patricia O’Roark, Founder, Mercy Housing