In June 2010, our co-founder and Executive Director Sister Mary Scullion was invited to submit to the “This I Believe” audio essay project, in which persons describe the core values that guide their daily lives. Sister Mary’s essay was broadcast on Philadelphia’s public radio station WHYY-FM. Here is a transcription of that audio essay.
When I was a student at St. Joseph’s University, I began to spend time on the streets of Philadelphia, getting to know the men and women for whom these streets were their only home. The more I developed relationships with them and the more I got to know them, the harder it became to head home at night while they remained outside. In time, I came to a powerful insight: When we see a person on the street we can no longer pass by and piously say, “There but for the grace of God go I” – but rather “There go I.”
As Dr. King taught us: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." I have had many great teachers – including Georgianna Simmons, who lost nine of her toes to frostbite on the streets of Philadelphia, and who, despite a daunting mental illness, was a powerful advocate and woman of great love. Or Tanisha Clanton, who spent the first ten years of her life in shelters, and now is in college pursing a degree in art education so she can use the arts as a tool for educating inner-city youth. Or Joe Williams, who turned his years of addiction into a passion for recovery and now, with a college degree, runs a recovery house for homeless men.
I've been doing this work for more than 30 years, and I've been radically changed. People who have nothing have taught me so much about life and grace, about faith and compassion. Among the lessons they have taught me is that ultimately, people who are homeless and poor need the same opportunities we all need: decent, affordable housing; quality education; employment; and access to health care.
More significantly, their lives so eloquently witness to the fundamental truth of the dignity of every person. Contrary to our society, which values those who it deems productive and prosperous and often marginalizes those who struggle with homelessness, I believe that every man, woman, and child possesses gifts, worth, and potential. Everyone matters! And so I envision and work for a society in which each person is given the opportunity and resources to achieve their fullest potential and to contribute to the common good. I also believe that our greatest power is unleashed when people come together across social boundaries to form a community united by a common vision.
It is through "the power of we," as our friend and partner, Jon Bon Jovi reminds us, that we come to know the deepest truth of our humanity. At the end of the day, this is what I truly believe: “None of us are truly home until all of us are home.”