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Nuns Build 2010
Dominican sisters help rebuild in New Orleans

Two homeowners with Trinh Pham, Cathy Arnold, OP (Peace), Heidi Miles, Katie Addy, Amy McFrederick, OP (Peace).
Photos courtesy of Dominican Sisters of Peace

Dominican sisters of Springfield, Adrian, Amityville, Hope, Peace and Cabra gathered in New Orleans May 31–June 5 to participate in the second annual St. Bernard Project of New Orleans. Several dozen Catholic sisters and other volunteers helped rebuild houses in the devastated St. Bernard civil parish. The volunteers labored to help remove the barriers that still keep people from returning home nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina.

“Participating in the Nuns Build was a powerful experience,” said Sister Melissa Blankestyn, OP (Springfield). “Working on the home was a tangible expression of assisting in the rebuilding of St. Bernard Parish, but the grace and impact came in the sharing of the stories and lives of the people. There is still much healing that needs to take place, emotionally and physically, and as volunteers we were present to that process. I would encourage anyone thinking about volunteering to take that step; there is much to be done and the experience is incredible!”

Sister Regina McCarthy, OP (Peace)

The sisters participated in many phases of rebuilding, including hanging drywall, painting, flooring and installing doors and windows, working alongside grateful homeowners and other volunteers. They also had opportunities to tour different areas, meet residents and hear their stories, and share meals and conversation with those whom the St. Bernard Project has helped.

“Almost five years later, the devastation is still incredibly hard to see,” said Vicki Guthrie, dean of students at St. Catharine College in Kentucky, a sponsored ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. “[There are] neighborhoods where some houses have been rebuilt, but others are abandoned or missing altogether. The symbols spray-painted on the houses remain, indicating the house was checked, its condition, and if any bodies were found.”

Archbishop Gregory Aymond welcomed the volunteers to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and offered a blessing on their work. Other special events included a welcome home party for a local homeowner and an appreciation dinner recognizing local and national partners and donors as well as the volunteers.

Sister Cathy Arnold, OP (Peace)

Vocation ministers Cathy Arnold, OP (Peace) and Amy McFrederick, OP (Peace) joined the Nuns Build project for a few days, bringing two women in discernment to join in the experience as part of a larger mission week. Regina McCarthy, OP (Peace), Spanish instructor at St. Catharine College, and Dominican associate Bettye Brookfield, SCC art instructor, were part of the St. Catharine team.

In addition to contributing their labor, many of the sisters sought financial donations for the rebuilding efforts. Sister Joan Donovan, OP (Amityville) raised more than $20,000 to completely finance the reconstruction of one home. Sisters Ginny Maguire, OP (Amityville) and Christine Sammons, OP (Amityville) also received donations from family and friends. Volunteer Sister Marian Castelluccio, OP (Adrian) said she plans to go home and raise the approximate money it takes to rebuild one home for the next Nuns Build.

This was the second Nuns Build for Sharon Yount, OP (Hope) and she plans to participate in her third one in November. “There is still so much more help needed down in the New Orleans area,” she said.

Nuns Build is held for one week, twice a year. Women religious from across the country are invited to participate, along with their friends and families. The next Nuns’ Build week is set for Nov. 15–20, 2010. For more information or to participate, contact volunteer@stbernardproject.org. Volunteer opportunities with the St. Bernard Project can also be arranged outside of the context of Nuns Build.

View a video of this spring’s Nuns Build (filmed by Nathan Mihelich, communications director for the Springfield Dominicans)

About the St. Bernard Project

The St. Bernard Project (SBP) is a nonprofit disaster rebuilding organization in New Orleans, LA, dedicated to rebuilding the homes and lives of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Its programs are designed to address the physical, emotional, and psychological devastation caused by the storm. Using volunteer labor, SBP takes gutted houses and makes them livable again in approximately 12 weeks for $20,000 worth of building materials. Since its inception in July 2006, SBP has rebuilt nearly 280 homes with the assistance of more than 22,000 volunteers. SBP has expanded its rebuilding program with the joint goals of assisting more families and developing a replicable model for post disaster rebuilding.