Monday, April 18, 2011

Sr. Mary Scullion, RSM -- the Laetare Medal

Three word answer for a close to perfect imitation of Christ: SISTER MARY SCULLION, RSM.

She is the real deal. While the recently departed head of Philadelphia's Housing Authority, Carl Greene, drew a $300,000 salary, lived in a million dollar condominium, and wasted the tax payer's money on parties and attorney fees (and 20 leather trimmed Tumi carry-on duffel for PHA hacks - at $796 apiece ) -- this lady, this living saint, does far more for far less.

While coaching in North Philadelphia I took two of my players to a pre-season Eagles game and then dropped them off at their apartment at 23rd and Norris Streets. After they got in I saw this lady walking across the street and yelled "Sr. Mary." We chatted and she asked me what I was doing there. She knew both the boys as they lived in Rowan Homes -- a place she built for former homeless people. And she lived directly across the street.

Congrats Sr. Mary and Joan Dawson McConnon. I couldn't think of more deserving recipients! I'm sure your buddy Jon Bon Jovi will be there for the award ;-)

From the website Whispers in the Loggia, on April 3rd, by Rocco Palma.

Keeping its 130-year tradition on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, the University of Notre Dame announced this morning that the co-founders of the River City’s pioneering Project H.O.M.E. -- Religious Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion (above) and Joan Dawson McConnon -- are 2011’s joint recipients of American Catholicism’s most prestigious and venerable award, the Laetare Medal.

Founded in 1989, Project H.O.M.E. (“Housing. Opportunities for Employment. Medical Care. Education.”) has been credited with cutting Philadelphia’s homeless population in half. Its efforts based around a program that invites the homeless to come in from the streets to access the education and empowerment tools to find work, stability and a place to call their own, the empire of service created by this year’s Laetare laureates has grown from a start-up in an abandoned building with 12 men looking for help to providing nearly 500 affordable housing units for its current clients, countless more gone on to owning homes, multiple businesses to employ and train those who've come in search of the step up, and a multi-million-dollar North Philadelphia technology center where underprivileged youth spend six days a week learning the computer skills they'll need in today's workplace.

According to its figures, some 95 percent of Project H.O.M.E. alums "stay off the streets for good," and attempts to imitate the model have popped up around the country.

Along the way, with McConnon -- an accountant who left the corporate world behind after volunteering in a church hospice -- quietly overseeing the operations side of the work, the fierce, formidable religious known from City Hall and national newsrooms to shelters simply as “Sister Mary” would go on to become Philadelphia’s most credible and prominent moral authority, her passionate, unvarnished conviction winning an army of followers ranging from the longtime Republican (then Democratic) Senator Arlen Specter and the new owners of NBC to the musician Jon Bon Jovi, who's dubbed the "nun who spits and swears" his "mentor" in undertaking his own considerable efforts at service. Further underscoring the point, while sisters engaged in social ministry usually find their cheering section on one side of the political aisle, such are Scullion’s devotees across all sorts of divides that, when the Philadelphia Housing Authority was recently placed under Federal oversight amid allegations of mismanagement and settled sexual-harassment claims against its now-former executive director, the city’s leading conservative commentator took to prime-time TV brandishing a “big idea”: send in Sister Mary to whip the beleaguered agency back into shape.

Twenty-five years after opening her first shelter -- a home for mentally-ill women -- as her own housing goes, Scullion now lives in a one-bedroom apartment at Project H.O.M.E.'s recently-built residence for mothers who’ve come in from the streets with their kids. Prior to that, she kept her room at a former convent which the apostolate converted into a residence for 25 male addicts in various stages of recovery.

Dubbed “the nun who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” by NBC Nightly News -- and, by others, the modern successor to her hometown’s own St Katharine Drexel, or even "Joan of Arc" -- Sr Mary has thrice made TIME magazine’s list of the world’s “100 Most Influential People,” tapped alongside such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Palin, President Obama, the topmost leaders of Britain, France and Germany, China’s presidential heir apparent, the founder of Amazon and the Evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren... not to mention B16 himself.

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