by Molly Butler
Molly is a new Loretto Volunteer in Washington DC. She is working at Community of Hope.
A house becoming a home - on move-in day!
As I sit here at the Junia House dining room table, I contemplate this very special place and everything it holds. Just three weeks ago five of us D.C. volunteers moved into a house with a whole lot of Loretto “flair,” as I like to call it. The sentimental wall hangings and books, eclectic styles of second-hand furniture, art and supplies cultivate a beautiful space for communal living. Many of these things provide a glimpse in to the volunteer communities that preceded ours and reflect a wide range of Loretto values. The space here is one that fosters cooking and conversation, relaxation and relationships. All of us (including our sixth member at the Maryland satellite campus) share meals around this table and enjoy picnics on our back porch. Although the house itself is newer territory for the D.C. volunteers, it has not taken long for this place to feel like home.
But what does this mean, exactly, for a particular place to be considered “home?” How do we create this safe space and more importantly, how do we sustain it?
These are questions that have been on my mind a lot recently, especially given the nature of my new job at Community of Hope, a non-profit organization that offers housing and health services to homeless and underserved families in the D.C. area. Can “home” be more than just a physical space? How can we make sure that everyone has one?
I actually had the opportunity to explore these questions, and many more, at the Loretto Motherhouse a few weeks ago. All nine of the new volunteers traveled from eight different states, bound for orientation among the beautiful, green farmlands of central Kentucky. I was anxious to embark on an adventure full of learning, introductions, reflection, and retreat from the fast pace of city life.
Each morning all of the volunteers gathered together to discuss various Loretto values, including community, social justice, spirituality and simple living. We talked about our personal experiences with each and how they might inform our year as Loretto volunteers. One of the more powerful discussions for me was that of “simple living.” One morning we walked up the path toward Cedars of Peace and arrived at the home of two Loretto co-members, Susan and JoAnn. Their house, constructed almost entirely out of recycled materials, stands near to the Motherhouse, surrounded by beautiful gardens of flowers, herbs and various types of vegetables. Almost every piece of their home had been hand picked, full of history and re-purposed to fulfill a specific role in the construction of the house. From compostable toilets to stone showers and solar heat panels, their style of living was both simple and innovative. I loved that they knew where each material came from, and that their house co-existed so peacefully with the earth.
After discussing the idea of “simplicity” and ways to live sustainably, Susan referred us back to this question, “What makes a place home?” Responses varied, but we came to the conclusion that “home” is somewhere where you can invest yourself; a place where you have the freedom to put down roots and to share community. It is hopefully somewhere that you feel comfortable and supported, and is sometimes created with your own two hands. It is a place where you feel safe and look forward to returning. Many of the sisters return to the Motherhouse later in life, a place where they can participate in community, connect with the Divine, and live among extraordinary natural beauty and history. “Home” is indeed more than just a physical space. I admire the work of Community of Hope, not only because they provide shelter for many families who are without, but because their ultimate goal is to empower the families and to give them opportunities to create this sense of “home” for themselves. I look forward to my year with this organization, and to explore these questions further.
On our last night in Kentucky Sister Cecily read us a poem by Ursula K. LeGuin, entitled, “Please Bring Strange Things.” The poem concluded,
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well-loved one,
Walk mindfully, well-loved one,
Walk fearlessly, well-loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
Be always coming home.
In the spirit of Loretto, I approach this coming year with compassion and an open mind. Whether in D.C., St. Louis, New York, or anywhere else in the world, I walk with all those “working for justice and acting for peace,” and feel the love every step of the way.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.