Throughout the next few weeks OLMC is publishing profiles of each of our Hall of Fame Inductees, we hope you enjoy these personal portraits of alumni, parishioners and Academy families and we especially hope to see you at the gala event, November 30, 2018. Tickets can be purchased at the Narthex Office after the 10AM Mass or in the Church and Academy offices during the week!
For the past 26 years, Bronx-based Siena House has been serving the needs of homeless, single mothers and children from New York City…
Twenty-seven women, who are either pregnant or with a child under the age of three, are provided with shelter, a safe environment, limited on-site child care, women’s health workshops, creative workshops, and support and guidance at Siena House. These women are also assisted in acquiring and maintaining permanent housing after their time there.
Sr. Mary Doris, along with several other Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, founded the shelter in 1990 under the sponsorship of Tolentine Zeiser Community Life Center and served as Director ever since. Before she began her work at Siena House, Sister Mary served as a High School Equivalency teacher for nine years in the Highbridge area. It was during that time that she became aware of the struggles of young mothers who were trying to complete their education while trying to find a safe place to live. This awareness and a commitment to the homeless made by the Blauvelt Dominican Sisters at their Chapter of 1987, led her to found Siena House.
Through the years, several sisters have served with Sister Mary at Siena House while others have supported Siena House with prayers and donations. Currently, Sister Cecilia Byrnes serves as the Assistant Director of Siena House. Sister Laura Fitzgerald is a Housing Specialist and Sister Maureen Gibbons is the Business Manager.
No two days are ever the same at Siena House. “With 27 young mothers who are pregnant or have a young baby, there is always a situation needing attention,” she commented. If a women moves out of Siena House, her room is typically filled the same day. Sister Mary acknowledged, “One of the hardest things [about working at Siena House] is the pressure of trying to move our families into suitable, low income housing, of which there is very little.”
Hearing from former residents is one of the most rewarding aspects of Sister Mary’s work:
“I am a former resident of Siena House. During 1997, I was pregnant with my son and I gave birth to him while I still resided there … I was able to obtain Section 8 Housing during my stay, which helped me provide a roof over my son’s head during difficult times and limited finances … I just wanted to say THANK YOU for taking me in during the most vulnerable time in my life and giving me hope for the future. I now am the Personal Training Director of a well- known Fitness Club, a homeowner, and a mother of two. It has not been a straight shot for me, but I can’t forget where I came from. Keep doing great things impacting young women’s lives (and subsequently) the lives of their children. I will forever be grateful for all of you!”
Along with her work at Siena House, Sister Mary is known internationally for her participation in the Lullaby Project. In 2013, Siena House was invited by Carnegie Hall to participate in the Lullaby Project. Although there was initial hesitancy from the mothers about their ability to compose a lullaby for their babies, the individual artists at Carnegie Hall were able to connect with them on a one-on-one basis to encourage them to write a poem, letter or just hopes for their baby. With great sensitivity and gentleness, this resulted in the creation of beautiful music.
Sister Mary noted, “In the midst of all the stress and struggles of our young mothers in choosing to keep their children while living in a shelter, the Lullaby Project provided a time for them to cherish their babies and to recognize the beauty and honor of Motherhood. This past year, Sister Mary was honored by Voices of Faith for her work at Siena House and the Lullaby Project in a ceremony in Rome, Italy.
Even with all of the success that Siena House has experienced under Sister Mary’s leadership, she is still looking for more ways to offer services to benefit the residents. She remarked, “I would love to see us be able to provide more programs to help our young moms complete their high school education and acquire those skills which will help them to find stable employment opportunities.”
The Mens, Corpus, Spiritus Award will be presented to Sr. Mary Doris, OP, Director of the Siena House Shelter. The Mens, Corpus, Spiritus Award, or colloquially, the mind, body, spirit award, is given to the individual or individuals, institution or center that exemplifies the three key areas where Catholic service impacts our lives. The recipient(s) of this award are impacting the lives of so many at the highest level, either by writing policy, serving the larger human family or embodying a vision of all that is worthy of the Catholic faith.