The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary have been of vital importance in this community since their beginning in 1845. They have a rich history of providing education, care, and shelter, and have always lived by their mission of building a culture of peace. IHM Sisters are also partially responsible for bringing the Habitat for Humanity affiliate to Monroe.
As Habitat Monroe is in the midst of building their 100th home in the county, the affiliate looked back on everyone who has helped them get to this point. They were recently reminded of their IHM support when Sister Mary Agnes Ryan, Sister Joyce Durosko, and Sister Margaret Chapman collectively donated in the name of IHM to Habitat’s 100 Homes campaign.
This partnership between IHM and Habitat Monroe began in 1994 when IHM Sister Harriet Fitzmaurice, alongside Associate Carolyn Solomon and other committee members, helped lead the initiative to bring a Habitat affiliate to Monroe. The idea came about as a way to combat homelessness in the county. It was brought to a vote among other pastors and community members and it passed. After meetings with Habitat International, a board of directors was formed and the Habitat Monroe affiliate officially opened in 1995. As an ode to their work in founding Habitat Monroe, the first completed Habitat home was dedicated to Sister Fitzmaurice and Solomon in 1996.
“They certainly were movers, they were very committed,” Sister Mary Agnes said of the original founders. Sister Mary Agnes served on one of the earliest Habitat boards and is also a current member.
“We were really all beginners,” she said, “how it’s grown is huge compared to how it was originally.”
After the founding, IHM stayed involved with Habitat by always having a Sister on the board. By the time 2003 rolled around, Habitat Monroe had completed 11 houses since their opening. To bring more community awareness to the mission of Habitat Monroe, the idea of doing Blitz Builds was raised. A Blitz Build was a week long build event where staff and volunteers completed a house. This kind of event could not succeed without a strong backing from the community and the Sisters decided that they wanted to help.
“One of my great memories was how we got involved in the build,” Sister Mary Agnes said, “this is all nuns and we’re not builders.”
Rather than working on the build site, the Sisters decided to help in other ways. Coordinated by Sister Joyce Durosko, the Sisters ran the registration table on the morning of every build and helped to create a volunteer database. The morning process entailed greeting each volunteer, ensuring that they filled out every piece of necessary information on their waiver, handing out breakfast, and leading a morning prayer.
“IHM was usually reclusive so this was one of the first times that was so large and visible where they could get out in the community and get the know other parishes,” Sister Joyce said.
In addition to their morning registration, the Sisters would also help with lunches that were provided for the volunteers by local churches. This is something that stuck with Sister Joyce about the experience.
“The churches were magnificent, churches of only about 30 people would bring out huge meals,” she said. “It was a marvelous thing about this arrangement of the blitz, we built community.”
One stand out moment for Sister Mary Agnes was when they had a community council member as a guest speaker for the day and she spoke about how the area that Habitat was building in at the time, hadn’t been prioritized or paid much attention to in many years.
“I was just so taken,” she said.
Sister Mary Agnes still remembers the gratitude that this speaker had and how they all realized that Habitat was truly bringing new life to this area.
Over 100 Sisters volunteered during Blitz Builds over the years that they took place. Though the weather was sometimes unfavorable, it was seldom that they ever skipped out on their volunteer duties.
“What happened in those 10 years was the best thing for the whole community. People got together who had never heard of each other,” Sister Joyce said.
She recalled a humorous moment when they had volunteers from a car manufacturer show up to build in their suits and ties. She asked them what they were there to do dressed like that and explained to them how dirty the build sites could get. The Sisters then passed out t-shirts for them to work in instead.
Habitat Monroe’s CEO at the time, Deb Wykes, also spoke of the lengths to which the Sisters took their volunteering to.
“Everything was always in order, every file. They would file all of their names in alphabetical order. If they didn’t fill out the forms properly, they’d track them down,” Wykes said of the Sisters’ registration process.
The Sisters also took to hand writing out thank you notes for the volunteers, which would sometimes amount to hundreds of notes. If a volunteer didn’t put their address down, the Sisters would get out their phone books and look them up that way to ensure that they could get a thank you note.
“It’s not a small thing to bring out people for blitz builds,” Wykes said. “It was all kinds of stuff that they had to check and they did it all so well, and they did it with such happiness and joy. God has really blessed us with these ladies.”
Wykes also said that she still runs into Sisters today, who volunteered in the Blitz Builds, and they still speak of the experience fondly.
“The whole thing was a really nice spirit,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “It was a wonderful spirit builder.”
Habitat Monroe eventually moved on from Blitz Builds and started building houses all year round. Though they stopped running volunteer registration after the Blitzes ended, IHM remained involved with the affiliate with representation on the board and by attending events. In 2010, Habitat Monroe recognized Sr. Joyce for all of her work and dedication over the course of their volunteering and she was chosen as volunteer of the year.
“Where one IHM is, all IHM’s are,” she said. “I’ll only accept that award if all of the IHM’s that worked with us are honored.”
Sister Joyce accepted the award alongside her fellow IHM volunteers at a reception held by Senator Randy Richardville.
“We were grateful we were apart of it and as a result we all love Habitat,” Sister Joyce said.