By Alyssa Choiniere
UNIONTOWN, Pa. — The former St. Mary Nativity Convent was transformed into a transitional home for women to live in community and gain support to achieve their life goals.
Sister Annette Frey, a nurse, and Sister Jean Augustine, a social worker, both from Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, live with the women at Mary House in Uniontown. The women are often transitioning from homelessness, drug addiction or other difficult circumstances and are seeking direction and structure to return to society as contributing members.
“Every woman has their own background. They’ve made poor choices and they’re trying to recover from those choices,” Augustine said. “Sometimes that’s more difficult.”
The women may be working toward goals like regaining custody of their children or gaining stable income. They are permitted to stay at the house for up to two years, and the nuns work with the women to set goals and ensure they are working toward them. The time the women spend living in the house is situational.
“A lot of it depends on, are they really on their feet? Do they have enough money in their pockets? Do they have enough self esteem to go back?” Frey said.
Up to five women live in the house at a time. They are required to follow house rules and contribute, which includes sharing chores like laundry and cooking and helping to pay the bills. The women meet around the table every evening for dinner, which the nuns said is a new experience for many of the women.
“They’ll tell you, ‘I never sat down like this,'” Augustine said.
The idea for Mary House was developed in 2016 at the St. Vincent de Paul conference.
“He saw women who kept coming back to St. Vincent for help, for money, for payment of bills. He saw these women and identified a need,” Augustine said.
- IF YOU WANT TO HELP: Donations can be made by check to Mary House Inc. and mailed to 7 Gilmore Street, Uniontown, Pa. 15401.
The idea was developed to provide women with the support they needed to transform their lives, teaching them life skills like budgeting, referring them for support like outside counseling, and providing them with the structure they need to thrive. The sisters work with local charities to provide additional assistance to the women.
They said their donors are supportive, but few people even know the home exists.
“They always say the little donors are what keeps the organization going,” Frey said.
They are often surprised by dropoffs of donations on their porch. Recently, a surplus of bouquets was delivered. More often, they receive gifts of food or clothing.
“It’s amazing the different gifts we get on the porch, and we never know what it will be,” Frey said.
The sisters said donations for bus fare or tuition can help the women with stable employment and to achieve their goals.
Alyssa Choiniere is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story is being simultaneously published. Email her at [email protected]