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Nuns’ Build 2017

Nuns and Power Tools? Seems like an odd combination, right?! Not at Nuns’ Build where the theme of the week is “Women Religious: Making a Difference.”

3 Dominican Young Adults (Sean Puzzo, Jessica Abejar, Shakita Kabicek), 2 Amityville Dominican Associates (Kathleen Friend and Nora Toale) and DYMUSA Director, Sr. Gina Fleming OP spent the week at two sites assisting in rebuilding homes damaged by Katrina and the February 2017 tornado.

The 10th Annual Nuns’ Build took place in New Orleans last week, November 13-16. Sisters from across the United States along with their friends and families come to New Orleans for a week to help address the housing crisis left in Katrina’s wake (now in the 12th year of its projected 20-year recovery) by transforming abandoned and blighted lots into affordable homes for 1st time home buyers. Nun’s Build is a partnership with SBP, formerly known as the St. Bernard Project, whose mission is, “…shrink time between disaster and full recovery by ensuring that communities are resilient prior to a disaster and that disaster-impacted citizens and communities recover in a prompt, efficient and predictable manner.”

Sister Mary Keefe, OP, 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 Parish, Sister Mary contacted the 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. In 2015, Sister Mary received the Good Samaritan Award from the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) during their annual gathering. Sr. Mary spoke of the humble beginnings of Nuns’ build in her acceptance speech,  “I had no idea how to put something like a Nuns’ Build together. “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 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.” This tradition continues today.

The rebuilding efforts of New Orleans and surrounding areas continue more than 10 years after Katrina. Thousands of homeowners still have not been able to afford to rebuild their homes after the storm. The DYMUSA crew began their week working on the finishing touches of a home that had been damaged by Katrina. The family would be returning to their home for the first time in over 10 years.

Tragedy struck again in February 2017 when the strongest tornado recorded in New Orleans history ripped through New Orleans East leaving considerable damage along its path and approximately 10,000 homes without electricity – many of which had been repaired after Katrina.

In one case the Tornado was a blessing in disguise. The damage from the tornado revealed that the second house, that the DYMUSA crew and others worked on during Nuns’ Build, had been repaired after Katrina with defective drywall which had the potential to make the homeowners sick. As a result, the post Katrina repairs had to be gutted and SBP began the task of repairing the home. By the end of Nuns’ build, 90% of the house had been drywalled with the hope of getting the family back in the house in early January.

On the last day of the week participants of Nuns’ Build 2017 were able to be present for a “Welcome Home” party which marks the official return of a homeowner to their property. It was an emotional event which celebrated the hard work and dedication of all those involved and the resilience of the people of New Orleans.

SBP 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. Most recently, SBP mobilized to Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico to assist in recovery from the Hurricanes that left these areas damaged.

Learn more about SBP at

For more images of the week click here.


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