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October 14, 2015, New Orleans, Louisiana – Just as people throughout the United States recognized in the 10th anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina, so four Adrian Dominican Sisters were among a number of women religious who were honored for their support and service of the people of New Orleans who suffered terribly from the hurricane. 

Attending the special celebration – hosted by the Marianites of the Holy Cross, were Sisters Judy Zynda, OP, coordinator of volunteers at Christopher Homes; Patricia Harvat, OP, vice president of Dominican and Catholic Identity at St. Mary’s Dominican High School, sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Peace; Kitty Bethea, OP, who ministers with the Hispanic community at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish; and Sister Mary Keefe, OP, founder of Nuns’ Build, an annual event that helps to restore homes severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina.  

Read the tribute in the Fall 2015 issue of The Marianite.

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September 30, 2015, Lake Buena Vista, Florida – Sister Mary Keefe, OP, received the 2015 Good Samaritan Award in recognition of her efforts, through Nuns’ Build, to organize Catholic Sisters, colleagues and family members to rebuild homes in New Orleans that had been severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Sister Mary received the award September 15 from the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) during their annual gathering.

The Good Samaritan Award is given to a person whose “life of service is an outstanding example of following the Gospel message, as manifested in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” Attending the award ceremony with Sister Mary were Karen Ashiku, her blood sister; Amy Palmer, Director of Development for the Adrian Dominican Sisters; and Sister Patricia Siemen, OP.

Sister Mary speaks about her work through Nuns’ Build. Photo by Jim Greipp, NCDC

In accepting the award, Sister Mary spoke of the heritage and call of Catholic Sisters. “We stand on the shoulders of giants, women who gave up everything to follow Christ,” she said. “We continue in their footsteps, being faithful, as they were, to the call of God in those places where we find ourselves.”

Sister Mary developed Nuns’ Build in response to the needs of the people of New Orleans who had been afflicted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She moved to New Orleans in November 2007 to begin a ministry of home visiting in St. Bernard Civil Parish (similar to a county).  

In her efforts to gather information on resources available to the people of St. Bernard, Sister Mary contacted St. Bernard Project, an organization that focused on rebuilding homes in New Orleans. After hearing about Women’s Build – a project to encourage women to volunteer to rebuild the homes and to raise money for families that could not afford the necessary materials – Sister Mary suggested a new, similar project, Nuns’ Build. 

The first Nuns’ Build was scheduled for early October 2009. “I had no idea how to put something like a Nuns’ Build together,” Sister Mary said in her acceptance talk. “I knew I needed beds and cars and drivers so I began contacting the Sisters in the area. All of them responded in a most positive way and offered to do anything they could to help.” Sister Mary also reached out to Dominican congregations throughout the country, inviting them to take part in the project. The Dominican Sisters contacted Sisters from other congregations, and the first Nuns’ Build drew nearly 100 volunteers for all or part of the five-day work.  

Sister Mary noted the generous response of the Sisters and of numerous other people throughout the years. “A church parish about 35 miles from New Orleans made and delivered lunches to the work [site],” she said. “The Knights of Columbus hosted dinner for us the Sunday night before the Builds began, as well as providing and delivering lunches on two or three days to the work sites.”

Today, more than 10 years after Katrina, the rebuilding efforts of New Orleans and surrounding areas continue. Thousands of homeowners still have not been able to afford to rebuild their homes after the storm, according to a report by NBC News

The St. Bernard Project continues to serve the needs of these families in New Orleans – as well as the families in New York and New Jersey suffering from Hurricane Sandy. The Seventh Annual Nuns’ Build is scheduled for November 16-20, 2015. Registrations are still being accepted.


Feature photo: Sister Mary Keefe, OP, holding her award, poses with Karen Ashiku, Sister Mary’s sister (left) and Amy Palmer, Director of Development for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Photo by Jim Greipp, NCDC



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