One way the School Sisters of Notre Dame express their mission of unity is to enable people to reach the fullness of their potential. Sometimes, as is the case at SisterHouse in Chicago, Illinois, that means giving a second chance to reach that potential. SisterHouse, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022, offers a temporary home to women seeking recovery from substance abuse. Its programs aim to break the cycle of addiction, homelessness, unemployment, hopelessness and poverty by enabling residents to become psychologically and economically self-sufficient.
“I serve on the board because I love that SisterHouse is about second chances,” said board president Tiffany Harrison. “I’m very impressed by people who are starting a journey of sobriety. I don’t think a lot of adults actually have the courage to say, ‘I made a mistake in my life, and I am publicly going to say I’m going to change it.’ I want to help anybody who is that brave; I want to be there to support them.”
Sister Carol Dwyer is a volunteer at SisterHouse and also serves on the board.* “I have enjoyed this ministry as it is so meaningful and challenging, as well as fulfilling. There’s a mutuality in this service. We bless one another. The honesty, openness, and vulnerability are often what inspire me and touch me the most. In [the women’s] willingness to share their lives, their struggles, their pain, I see a fierce beauty in their transparency. I sense they know that their lives depend on this – their willingness to reach out, support and depend on one another, and the sisterhood that they build. It is so beautiful and such a blessing to be included in this support.”
SisterHouse can accommodate up to 16 residents and women typically stay 18-24 months. During that time, they work on the 12-step recovery program, attend counseling, learn life skills and job training and continually evolve into the person God created them to be.
Prior to ministering at SisterHouse, Sister Carol had been a chaplain counselor in addictions treatment. “To use these skills learned for the women at SisterHouse is such a privilege, for SisterHouse’s mission and vision resonate with the mission, ministry and charism of SSND. Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger founded the congregation to help women and girls use their gifts to create a better world. SSND educate for transformation, and women at SisterHouse are gifted with the opportunity to transform their lives and move toward the fulfillment of their God-given potential.”
Of the women who arrive at SisterHouse, 91% are homeless and more than 60% have no high school diploma or GED. Securing employment and saving money toward a place of their own are important milestones in the final phase of the program.
“I think supporting women is a wonderful thing to do,” said Harrison. “We help women restart their lives. Many of these women have families, so we’re not just helping them, we’re helping their whole family. We’re really changing not one life, but multiple lives.”
*This article was originally published in the 2022 Trust & Dare Magazine. While Sister Carol Dwyer no longer ministers weekly to residents at SisterHouse, she continues to serve on its board.