A very grateful and gracious homeowner Pamela addressed the crowd of 100 volunteers and staff gathered for the blessing of her home on May 11 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Pam and her family have been displaced since Hurricane Katrina ripped through their neighborhood in 2005, leaving 10-12 feet of standing water and making her home totally uninhabitable. In the last 10 years, she has tried countless times to rehabilitate her home, becoming a victim of contractor fraud and government grant hold-ups. Left with no savings to fix the damage, she had just about given up.
But hope wasn’t lost. With the help of the Federation’s 12 sister congregations and friends, the House of Charity New Orleans was able to finance the rebuilding of Pam’s house and provide the volunteers to get it done. After a year of hard work, the Seton Homecoming Project, also known as The House that Elizabeth Built, is complete. Watch Pam’s heartfelt address to her homecoming crowd:
HOUSE OF CHARITY
Out of the ruins of Hurricane Katrina came a dream by several Sisters of Charity to have a collaborative ministry setting where discerners and young adults could visit, learn and volunteer together. The House of Charity New Orleans was established in 2010 and later moved to its permanent location in 2013. Sister Monica Gundler, Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, helped establish the House of Charity and is one of three Sisters that lives at the House and helps host the many volunteer groups that visit.
“New Orleans is a city that captures your heart with its people, its unique history, faith and culture, and yet it is a city with great challenges,” said Sr. Monica. “The opportunity to collaborate with others in serving the needs of the community has continued to expand our mission of service to those in need.”
In 2015, the idea of building an honorary home was born: The Seton Homecoming Project.
“The idea came from the gathering of the Federation vocation and formation personnel last year and some talk at the House of Charity about the anniversary coming up,” Sr. Monica said. “It was 10 years since Katrina, last year was the year of consecrated life, and it was the 40th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Elizabeth. All those things were coming together and we wanted to do something that would address all those things. We went to the St. Bernard Project and said we’d like to bring a family home in honor of all these anniversaries, and we’d like to help build this house with all the volunteers that come through the house.”
Sisters from many congregations have taken student volunteer groups from De Paul University, Mount Saint Vincent, St. Mary Leavenworth, Mount St. Joseph and many other universities to New Orleans to partner with the St. Bernard Project in the building, drywall, siding and painting of Pam’s house. [Take a tour of the finished house with Pam here]
“I think anytime we can do things where the Federation sisters are together, it’s almost like having family in the house. There’s just something that when it’s our sisters coming together, that’s always special. We had sisters, college students, young adults that came with vocation and formation people, adult volunteers – we’ve had a little bit of everybody working on the house. My favorite group is the CCFP group, because it’s the vocation folks and the young adults working together, and that’s really where the dream of House of Charity came from, so that’s really special.”
The House of Charity hopes to continue in collaborative ministry and provide volunteers with a great experience.
“Reflection and prayer are essential elements of the House of Charity, as well as living in community,” said Sr. Monica. “We are not just a bed and breakfast for volunteers, but we create an experience that is hopefully transformative and gives them a sense of the charity spirit.”
Sr. Monica says the House of Charity is booked up again in this next year, and will continue to work with the St. Bernard Project to repair New Orleans through home construction. The House will also host various groups that will do alternative ministry in New Orleans.
“We want to continue to help meet the needs in our city,” Sr. Monica said. “Some of that may be rebuilding, and some of that may be ministry to those on the margins, in whatever ways we can help that to happen. New Orleans has so many needs: education, health care, violence, affordable housing, etc. Louisiana fights for the bottom in many of these areas. We are really trying to meet the needs of the people here, so we are always looking for opportunities where our volunteers can be of service.”