Newly-dedicated Sister Rose House will provide shelter, training for homeless

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — When she first brought together a group of clergy and community members to form Market Ministries, Inc. in the city of New Bedford back in 1982, Sister Rosellen Gallogly, R.S.M. — better known as simply “Sister Rose” — never imagined she’d be sitting inside a combination homeless shelter and training center that would bear her name.

“I’m so happy for everyone, they’ve reached a level where they are able to do a lot of what I hoped would be done,” Sister Rose told The Anchor. “It’s a terrific facility and a lot of people have done a lot of good work on it.”

Sister Rose said she was proud to witness the recent blessing and dedication of the new Sister Rose House, located at 75 Division Street in New Bedford. The 25-bed shelter for men will provide much-needed housing and support for the homeless in the greater New Bedford area.

Housed within the former St. Hedwig’s Church, where Sister Rose first began ministering to members of the city’s Hispanic community in the 1960s, the new facility will provide private beds on the main level with a job training center — known as the MacLean Saunders Education Center — and a commercial grade kitchen on the lower level.

The existing Sister Rose House, located at 72 Eighth Street in New Bedford, will soon relocate to the new facility and the soup kitchen currently run out of the Pilgrim United Church will also be moved to the MacLean Saunders Education Center.

“The soup kitchen is going to be a learning tool, meaning we’re going to teach people how to become sous chefs, how to cook, how to put out food, how to serve people, so that, hopefully, they can get their ServSafe certification so they can go out into the public market and work,” explained Arlene McNamee, director of Catholic Social Services, which oversees the Sister Rose House. “We also intend to put some other programs in here — personal care and training — as well as GED training and some tutoring.”

Noting they’ve had a working relationship that dates back some 45 years, McNamee said she vividly remembers when Sister Rose first formed Market Ministries, Inc. and how it grew and was later merged with Catholic Social Services.

“For 25 years she was its fearless leader, providing safe havens for people in this community who were homeless,” McNamee said. “And we’ll always be grateful for her kindness and her justice and her awareness of this need that — all too often back in those days — many of us were blind to.”

When Market Ministries, Inc. was absorbed into Catholic Social Services in 2010, McNamee said they were looking for an appropriate name for the flagship shelter and she suggested it be named after its founder, Sister Rose.

“(Sister Rose) came up with names, and I didn’t like any of them, so I suggested we call it Sister Rose House,” McNamee said. “And she said: ‘Oh, no Arlene, you can’t do that!’”

Not only did McNamee’s suggestion eventually win out, the growing number of emergency shelters now under the Catholic Social Services’ umbrella is also collectively referred to as the Sister Rose Network. In addition to Sister Rose House, it includes Grace House, an 11-bed shelter for homeless women located next door in the former St. Hedwig’s rectory; and Samaritan House, a shelter for men and women in Taunton.

“So from Market Ministries we now have three shelters that all came about from the vision of this one woman,” McNamee said. “This is like a dream come true.”

With a few finishing touches still remaining before it welcomes its first guests, the Sister Rose House was officially dedicated on February 9. Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., was present to bless the building and express his appreciation.

“I’m glad to join all of you here to celebrate this accomplishment and ask for God’s blessing upon this building and the people who will live here, work here, and benefit from it,” Bishop da Cunha said. “I want to offer my personal thanks to all those who worked so hard and invested so much of their time and energy — all the benefactors who donated and helped to raise funds — I want to thank you and the staff of Catholic Social Services for the good work they have done.”

New Bedford Mayor Jon F. Mitchell echoed Bishop da Cunha’s sentiments and personally thanked Sister Rose for her years of dedication to helping the homeless.

“I want to thank Sister Rose for being Sister Rose,” Mitchell said. “Big things start with a single idea — that’s the way it always is. There’s no shortage of great ideas, but they sometimes need someone (like Sister Rose) to drive them home.”

Noting that sheltering the homeless is not only a mission of the Church but also an obligation of the city, Mitchell said it’s great to see such a collaborative effort like this fully realized.

“Dealing with homelessness is truly a collective challenge; it’s something that requires the community to come together to care for the least of my brothers,” he said. “Government alone can’t do the job — it requires everyone to pitch in in some small way. Getting people off the street and getting them back on track requires a personal touch and it requires relentless determination. But we succeed every time we get someone back in — whether it’s just putting a roof over their heads or, especially, getting them back on the right track that will lead to success and fulfillment.”

Nearly two years in the making, Sister Rose House is scheduled to officially open in mid-March and McNamee said it wouldn’t have come to fruition without the tireless effort of countless people and many generous benefactors.

Chief among them was Ed Allard, program coordinator for Community Action for Better Housing, an arm of Catholic Social Services that works to acquire funding through local and state sources for similar housing projects like the Oscar Romero House in New Bedford.

“We think that this going to become a model shelter here in the state,” Allard said. “First of all, it’s housing people who need emergency care, and then we bring in the job-training component and combine that with the community garden — which will, in turn, bring together the neighbors — all of this is very good stuff and we feel very good about it.”

Another key player in raising money for the project was County Commissioner John Saunders, a former fisherman who joined forces with former State Senator William Q. “Biff” MacLean Jr. to raise more than $350,000 in private funds from the New Bedford fishing industry. Both men’s contributions are memorialized in the naming of the MacLean Saunders Education Center.

“We realized that about 30 percent of the people that we were seeing in our shelters came from the fishing community,” McNamee said. “It became apparent that they really needed to be part of this conversation.”

“We decided to go down and ask those guys who had a good year to see if they wanted to participate,” Saunders added. “We put together a luncheon and invited all the other big players from the fishing industry and, lo and behold, after a series of meetings over three-and-a-half weeks, we raised $350,000. That got us started and it went on from there.”

In addition to the shelter, job-training center, and soup kitchen operation, the Sister Rose House will also be home to an outdoor community garden in the adjacent parking lot area where food will be grown and cultivated for the soup kitchen and neighbors will be able to “plant and grow whatever they want,” according to McNamee.

“We will be providing a lottery to the neighbors so that they will draw lots and have a piece of the community garden,” she said. “Because of the density in this neighborhood, we have a lot of ethnic groups who really aren’t able to create a garden for themselves.”

McNamee added this is also a way for the neighborhood to take ownership of the shelter as its own.

“This shelter is a shelter for the community,” she said. “The community owns it; you helped build it, so it’s yours, too.”

Even though she’s no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the shelter, it’s clear that the lifelong mission of Sister Rose — a woman who has been referred to as the “Mother Teresa of New Bedford” — remains steadfast.

“There were a lot of people who supported this project, it’s not just me,” she said. “But I’ll be checking up on them.”

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