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Nuns’ Build Project
Dominicans Add Their Labor to Rebirthing Efforts in New Orleans

ST. BERNARD PARISH, LA --  "There's a need here, and sisters are responsive -- that's what we do," Sister Mary  Keefe, OP (Adrian) said of the effort of 36 Dominicans from ten congregations who participated in Nuns’ Build, an effort to rebuild homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

nuns build
Grace Dougherty, OP and Catherine McKillop, OP (Adrian)
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Mission San Jose Dominicans: LEFT: Mary Perez, postulant; Sr. Patricia Ann Smith, formation director; Sr. Mary Yun, novice.

About 80 sisters from across the United States worked from October 5th  to 9th  hanging wallboard, installing insulation and other tasks in St. Bernard civil parish. "We help people. Others have come, so why not the sisters? I knew that they would respond," said Sr. Mary.

They were part of "Nuns Build," a volunteer religious effort coordinated by the nonprofit St. Bernard Project and Ursuline Sister Regina Marie Fronmuller and Sister Mary, both of whom have been working in New Orleans since the devastating event in 2005. This was the first building project that was entirely made up of Catholic sisters.

"It didn't take much," Sister Regina Marie said. "They were so willing to help."

Dominican Sisters from Adrian, Mission San Jose, Amityville, Tacoma, San Rafael, Springfield, Racine, and Houston brought their muscle and tool boxes to the project.  Members of the Dominican Sisters of Hope and Dominican Sisters of Peace were also among the workers. Nine other religious congregations participated.

St. Bernard civil parish is one of the most badly damaged areas of the hurricane region and has an extraordinarily difficult recovery. Over 17,000 volunteers have helped to rebuild about 250 homes  

The sisters are among 17,000 volunteers who have helped rebuild 244 homes not only in the civil entity of St. Bernard Parish but also in New Orleans East and Gentilly since the St. Bernard Project began in July 2006. While other nuns have accompanied church groups since Katrina, this was the first all-nun group, Sister Regina Marie told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese.

At a prayer service on Monday morning, retired Archbishop Philip Hannan greeted all the volunteers and blessed them.  Craig Taffaro, Jr., President of St. Bernard Civil Parish, hosted a breakfast for the sisters on Thursday.
The next day, Paul Perez, a resident of St. Bernard Civil Parish, and his family and friends prepared and served a dinner for all the St. Bernard Project volunteers and staff.  Sisters who had housed visiting sisters and had given them rides to and from the airport were also invited to the dinner.

Dominicans from Mission San Jose laid down a thin layer of compound on the joints between sections of drywall in a house in Arabi. Sister Patricia Ann Smith, OP (MSJ) said, " I know the help that I'm going to give is only a tiny little, but if everyone gives a little, it helps out. I know if somebody is helping me, it gives me hope. I hope by all the sisters being here, it brings hope."

Almost $6,000 in gift card donations was collected to use at Target and Wal-mart. “I am most grateful for this outpouring of generosity that will allow me to help those in need in St. Bernard Civil Parish.  The sisters in my house will pray for these great people every day,” said Mary Keefe.

From news sources and CNS.

Anne Lythgoe, OP