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 CNS Story:

SCULLION Apr-6-2009 (810 words) With photo. xxxn

Mercy nun a finalist for Time list of world's most influential people

By Lou Baldwin
Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- You wouldn't expect to see a Philadelphia nun who works with the homeless on a list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Mercy Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder and executive director of Project HOME, has been named a finalist in Time magazine's 2009 annual most influential list, which calls her "Philadelphia's Mother Teresa."

As of midafternoon April 6, she was ranked 37th among 204 nominees in continuing online voting, right behind the Dalai Lama. The list includes people in government, science, technology and the arts.

On the plus side, according to the citation, she has helped slash the homeless rate in half in the City of Brotherly Love, and 95 percent of those who cycle through Project HOME are never again homeless, "a success rate which has made the program a model for dozens of other U.S. cities."

The only negative, according to the citation: "She's not too well-known outside of Philly."

That's beginning to change.

"It's not about me; we are a community of a lot of people," Sister Mary said in an interview with The Catholic Standard & Times, newspaper of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

She co-founded Project HOME in 1989, along with Joan Dawson McConnon, to whom Sister Mary attributes as much, if not more, responsibility for the organization's success. HOME stands for Housing, Opportunities for Employment, Medical Care, Education.

Now 55, Mary Scullion, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was a high school senior when she applied to the Sisters of Mercy in 1971.

Sister Ellen Cavanaugh, who was vocations director, remembers the interview well.

Some members of the screening committee looked at Mary in her high school uniform and thought her far too young and inexperienced to enter religious life. Others including Sister Ellen and the congregation's superior, Mother Mary Joan Thompson, disagreed.

"God knew that within Mary mercy lived," Sister Ellen said.

In any case, Mary Scullion waited a year before entering the congregation -- in the meantime she studied math at Temple University. Her first assignment after formation was teaching seventh grade in an inner-city school, St. Malachy in north Philadelphia.

Living and working among the poorest people in her city, Sister Mary felt drawn to a ministry more directly involved in alleviating their needs. After one year at St. Malachy, she joined the staff of Mercy Hospice, a shelter conducted by her congregation for homeless women.

A defining moment for her was the 41st International Eucharistic Congress, held in Philadelphia in 1976, which brought to the city such advocates for the poor as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India; Father Pedro Arrupe, the Jesuits' superior general; Brazilian Bishop Dom Helder Camara; and Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.

"Father Arrupe said, 'When people are hungry anywhere in the world, the Eucharist is incomplete,'" she said. "The Eucharist is central to my spiritual life, and there is a place for everyone at God's table."

The same principle holds for homelessness. "Our vision is that none of us are home until all of us are home," she said.

In 1985 she was a co-founder of Women of Hope, a safe haven that provides permanent housing for mentally ill women.

Since 1989, Project HOME has been her main focus. And under the leadership of Sister Mary and McConnon, it has grown from transitional housing for 12 men to a multifaceted agency designed to break the cycle of homelessness for the men and women it serves.

Project HOME, which depends on donations of time, talent and resources, now has 447 units of housing and conducts three businesses, including the Back Home Cafe, that provide employment to the formerly homeless.

Among the newer ventures is Rowan Homes, which houses 31 women with children, where Sister Mary herself has taken up residence.

A former hotel in an upscale neighborhood of Philadelphia was acquired and reopened in 2005 as Kate's Place; it was converted into apartments for 144 low- and moderate-income people.

"We are building a community of partners who are committed to ending homelessness, and the more people and partners involved the greater our chances in ending homelessness," Sister Mary said.

Fostering such partnerships was a point she made earlier this year in her speech at the annual meeting of FADICA, Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. She urged FADICA members to embrace a philanthropy that is done in a spirit of partnership with other foundations and the community.

A woman of seemingly boundless energy, she usually finds time for a run through Philadelphia's Fairmount Park a couple of times each week and hopes to participate in a May 3 10-mile run in the city. But most of her energy is spent in mission.

The question for Sister Mary is what is God's vision for the world and what can be done to make it happen, through his grace, prayer, Eucharist and community.


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