Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Illinois
September 2009
Benedictine Sisters monastery grounds at St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Ill Steps
Discerning your path in life
house mothers of st joseph house
Recipe for a Do-Over:
Hot Meals, Warm Beds and Lots of Hope

Although our corporate ministries are prayer, foremost, and Benet House Retreat Center, the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery also serve as parish ministers, educators, social workers and volunteers, running food pantries, praying with Hospice patients, calming families in hospital waiting rooms. This story comes from a volunteer ministry of Sr. Bobbi Bussan, our vocation director, and Sr. Germaine Cupp. Additionally, the Benedictine Sisters provide financial support for it.

Cheryl Miller sits at the dining room table with her 23-year-old daughter, Shakira (above, right and left, respectively). A cool breeze blows the lace curtains nearby as they discuss their plans for the day. There are supplies to buy - they are low on paper towels and dish soap - a computer to repair and plenty of chores to do around the house.
st joseph house Purple petunias lead up to the door of St. Joseph the Worker House, Rock Island, Ill.

St. Joseph the Worker House

The house is St. Joseph the Worker House, a residential facility for homeless women and children located in Rock Island and supported in part by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery. Cheryl and Shakira are the housemothers, but they came to the place the same way every other woman comes: homeless and hopeless. After three years here they are back on their feet, willing to share their own story as witness to the hope they impart to those who come now, seeking help.

"My little sister's dad hurt my mom," Shakira says. "She was seven months pregnant with Bianca (who is now six) when he picked her up and slammed her into the sink. He broke her back, actually. And then he stole the house and left us with nothing."
Cheryl sits quietly, nodding. It's painful to relive that chapter of her life.
"We went and stayed with my brother for a month, and then I found us a house," Shakira says. "Mom had Bianca and tried to go back to work, but she was in constant pain with her back. Then I lost my job and we couldn't pay rent so we had to move again."
Panicked about where they would go - Cheryl called dozens of places looking for help - they finally connected with an agency that put them in touch with the Benedictine Sisters and St. Joseph House.
bianca's room A kids' grocery cart is parked inside a family room.

A blessing for everyone

"It was devastating to go from our own home to a single room," Cheryl says. "But we were so grateful to have a place at all. Within a few weeks, we were asked to step up to the position of housemother and of course we said yes. It was such a blessing. I tell everyone I've been to the school of hard knocks and graduated from the university of adversity. We've learned a lot and can offer that to the other women."

The other women come - as Cheryl and Shakira before them - devastated, ashamed, frightened. One recently showed up after dark with four kids and the clothes on their backs. A state agency had called with a plea: either you take everyone right now or the mom will lose her children permanently.
children's toys A doll is one of many toys in the playroom.

God's do-over

Cheryl and Shakira opened their door, fed the children bowls of cereal and held Jessie (not her real name) as she wept. Five months later, Jessie had her GED and a good job that allowed her and her family to move into their own apartment. They keep in touch with their former housemothers.

"Most of the women who come here have made bad choices in men," Cheryl says. "They've lost their self esteem and their spirit. They've lost their home. They are desperate. St. Joseph House is a do-over for them. I tell them, God's giving you a chance to do the coulda, woulda, shoulda that you wished you'd done the first time. You're on the right path to a better life, to becoming the person you always was but couldn't be before."
painting the house Volunteers - including Sr. Bobbi - paint the house baby blue.

Getting what they need

The house was recently repainted baby blue by a crew including Sr. Bobbi Bussan (who also serves as St. Joseph Board President and computer repair person). The resident families clean, cook and eat together. Their children play and do homework together. They offer one another the support that has been lacking up till now.

"This is a 90-day program, although we often extend it to make sure families can support themselves again before they leave," Cheryl says. "We put them in touch with all the support agencies. We encourage them and treat them with respect and compassion. Everyone has a story. Everyone wants to be heard and not judged."
At St. Joseph House, they get the respect they need along with hot meals, warm beds and lots of hope.

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