The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is pleased to support National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW), an annual celebration that takes place from March 8-14 created to honor Catholic sisters. We are devoted to sharing the important work taking place by Catholic sisters throughout the nation and are lifting up their voices by sharing Sister Stories. This week’s story highlights the Collinwood Neighborhood Catholic Ministries, a grantee of the Sisters of Charity Foundation’s Collaboration of Ministry Initiative.
This article was originally published in the Sisters of the Humility of Mary Voice Fall 2017 Newsletter
Catholic sisters don’t retire; they merely change ministries. Sr. Madeline Muller, HM, is a prime example of this adage because in 2014 she retired from St. Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland and almost immediately began ministering at Collinwood Neighborhood Catholic Ministries (CNCM), whose mission is “to be a presence of listening, learning, and responding to unmet needs.”
“I knew of the work CNCM was doing and I knew Sr. Mary Ellen [Brinovec, OSU, executive director],” Sr. Madeline said. “I wanted to work with the people they were helping.”
So she didn’t think twice about joining the ministry when a staff position came open. Sr. Madeline serves as executive assistant, where she does a little bit of everything, including helping out with CNCM’s programming.
“I write grants, oversee the community garden, help with the finances, help with various programs, serve as the board secretary of The Collinwood Nottingham Village Development Corporation, and serve as secretary of The East Central District of the Cleveland Diocese,” she said of her many duties.
The creation of CNCM was inspired by the 2010 Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America traveling exhibit sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which showcased the story of Catholic sisters and their impact on and contributions to the American story.
Sisters from five religious congregations who serve in the Cleveland area [St. Joseph (CSJ); Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine (CSA); Sisters of Notre Dame (SND); Sisters of the Humility of Mary (HM); Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland (OSU)] and lay partners worked together on the idea to bring a ministry to the east side of Cleveland that was similar to the West Side Catholic Center, which offers programs to assist those in need. Collinwood was suggested as a possibility by Sr. Mary Ellen Brinovec, OSU, who had ministered in the area for over 25 years.
Home to a diverse population, the Collinwood area of Cleveland was the center of heavy industry in its heyday but has suffered from the loss of that industry over the years. Today, over 30% of households are below the US Census Bureau’s standard of poverty, which is an annual income of $23, 850.
After listening to the concerns of the people in the neighborhood, CNCM opened its doors in December 2012 in a renovated house on St. Clair Avenue offering programs and services tailored to address the needs that had been identified.
Some of these programs and services include an ID voucher program, record expungement clinics, assistance with computer skills, counseling, grief support, holistic healing, pregnancy support, and nutrition programs. Arts programs such as painting, cooking, quilting, knitting, and crocheting are also offered. A Little Free Library has been installed in front of the house and is kept well stocked by donations from churches in the community.
A new program this year was the establishment of a community garden where participants could grow and harvest their own produce. CNCM acquired an empty lot a few streets over from the St. Clair Avenue center and set up nine raised growing beds, a greenhouse structure, rain barrels, and a small shed for storing tools. The HM Community provided a grant to help with set up costs. Sr. Madeline hopes to continue and expand the program next year.
The HM Sisters have also provided assistance for the ID voucher program. This program helps people get the necessary picture identification or birth certificates they need to secure affordable housing, enroll children in school, or apply for social assistance.
The CNCM community garden was started with seed money from the HM Community. A hand painted sign welcomes you to the CNCM community garden. Sr. Madeline Muller, HM, shows off the CNCM community garden. CNCM works with individuals to make sure they have all the required documentation, and then a payment voucher is issued that the individual uses to purchase the ID. Participants have one month to take the voucher to the appropriate office to secure their ID or birth certificate.
“It’s a really nice program,” said Kathy Payerchin, a CNCM volunteer. “People are grateful and appreciative. You have to have an ID nowadays, and sometimes people can’t afford the cost. We have two bureaus in the area who work with us [on this program].” Sr. Madeline is proud of the work CNCM is doing in Collinwood and enjoys being part of the collaborative spirit of the ministry.
“The best thing about being here [at CNCM] is meeting the people,” she said. “I find that my ministry here in Collinwood fulfills our HM Mission of giving more abundant life to God’s people, especially the poor. We help people gain a sense of self-worth by being a presence in the neighborhood.”
Learn more about Collinwood Neighborhood Catholic Ministries at www.cncmministries.org