On the evening of Monday, April 22, my van, filled with six other women, arrived at the House of Charity in New Orleans. We were greeted by sisters Rene and Claire, who had a delicious dinner waiting for us. Later in the evening Sister Monica shared with us the video, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” which is the story of how five religious communities, whose buildings and ministries were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, made the commitment to stay in New Orleans and rebuild again.
Our routine schedule for the week includes prayer, reflection, hard work and of course some play time. The new House of Charity that will be home to us for the next several days is absolutely wonderful; spacious, simple and yet so aesthetic.
Yesterday, Tuesday morning, we received an orientation at St. Bernard Project by Andrea, one of the Americorps volunteers. Then off we went to work at Ms. Deborah’s house in Violet, LA, where we met Brittany, our project supervisor. She informed us that the group will be "mudding” the ceilings and walls for the next three days. Now, I would like to share with you a little about Ms. Deborah.
Deborah was about twelve years old when she and her six sisters helped her mother and father build their home in Violet, LA. The house is located next to the site of the church Deborah attended as a child. Her family helped purchase the church itself. Once the home was built, Deborah’s parents intended it to house the family of eight as well as anyone else in the community who might need a place to stay, including 21 foster children over the years. While Deborah was the only one living in the family home full time before Katrina struck and her sisters, nephews, nieces and other relatives always had a safe haven within its walls.
As Katrina bore down on St. Bernard Parish, Deborah organized forty some odd family members into a caravan of cars to travel to Atlanta where her children lived. Each of her daughters housed about twenty people. This began a two year stay in Atlanta for Deborah, however in her words : “I wanted to be home. New Orleans is home. There’s no place like home.”
During her time in Atlanta, Deborah still visited home several times. What she saw broke her heart. The water flooded the entire downstairs, reaching up into the second floor. In her eyes, “everything was washed away.” She was most devastated to learn that people had been stealing her furniture and other possessions while she was out of town. This was one of the things that motivated her to move back home as soon as she could.
Ms. Deborah cannot wait to return home and for the rituals and traditions her family has built over the years to be continued. Though arthritis has her wheelchair bound today, she looks forward to resuming cooking for Sunday meetings after church and filling her home with children and grandchildren.
Today, Wednesday, we will be joined by four men from St. Francis Xavier Parish.
They will be working in the Elysian Fields area installing a bathroom in the Maria C’s home. She is really looking forward to this project to be accomplished.