Nuns Build 2017 offered Sisters an opportunity to work alongside friends, family and the St. Bernard Project to help rebuild homes in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Federation group (see photo album here) joined 45 other women religious and several AmeriCorps volunteers for the week of November 13-17 to help repair the home of a senior citizen who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
When co-founders of the St. Bernard Project, Liz and Zach, began responding to the extreme needs of Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005, little did they realize what they were beginning.
And when Sisters Ann, Regina and Monica Gundler, who moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, initiated Nuns Build 10 years ago, they, too, were unaware of the responses they would receive from women religious hoping to make a difference for the struggling families in the area.
Along the way the St. Bernard project (SBP), their co-founders and the Sisters had the good fortune of teaming with Toyota and AmeriCorps volunteers, learning from one another. They learned to work smarter and reduced construction time from 116 to 61 days, thus allowing families to get back to normal living in a restored home.
Sisters of Charity Federation participants this November took away a number of gleanings from their experience. Sister Jackie Kowalski was happy to learn that SBP has moved beyond the New Orleans area and has recently responded to hurricane disasters in Houston, Texas, and Puerto Rico. She shared, “They have experience that needs to be shared and applied to similar situations.” Sister Jackie Leech would surely encourage other Federation members to volunteer. “It is so life-giving to come together with Sisters and AmeriCorps volunteers to serve others in need. We laughed, prayed and socialized in the midst of laminate flooring, painting, sawing and hanging doors. It was an awesome experience.”
Sister Pat Wittberg expressed her gratitude to the House of Charity for the success of Nuns Build. “They provide lodging at a time when fewer alternatives as convents/motherhouses close. They provide transportation to the work site and they are wonderfully hospitable. Sister Monica’s knowledge of the area, including tours of the lower ninth ward, add much to the experience.”
Sister Juliette Sabo was moved by the faith and trust of the people in allowing volunteers to help them rebuild. She remarked, “Our project supervisor and the AmeriCorps volunteers with whom we worked were so patient and kind. Know that whatever your skills are, they can be put to good use and are very much appreciated.”
A highlight of the experience for Sister Sally Duffy was a deep sense of community, both at the work site and at the House of Charity. She stated, “All 12 Charities created community by always being positive, affirmative, attentive and generous. The prayer time reflected an experience of the love of Christ urging us. The SBP staff and SBP AmeriCorps made sure you learned and they instilled a confidence to learn. There was a real joy present.”
Yes, the pace of the work was steady, but doing it with others for a purpose made it rewarding. We remain grateful to the Federation members who have volunteered over these 10 years of Nuns Build and for all the Welcome Home events that have occurred as a result. New Orleans says ‘Thank You!’
Story written by Sister Georgia Kitt, Director of Communications for the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati