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Embracing Faith Through Ministry: Siena House Celebrates 30 Years of Caring

By Katie Beckmann Mahon, Communications Manager

This week’s “Embracing Faith” article will focus on Embracing Faith through Ministry.

Embracing Faith Through Ministry

“…walk in the way of love, just as Jesus loved us.” -Ephesians 5:2

January 23, 2020, was a milestone for the Siena House community as they came together to celebrate their 30th Anniversary.

Siena House, a ministry founded by the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, is a family shelter in the Bronx that provides transitional housing for pregnant women, as well as women with children under the age of three.

Founded under the sponsorship of Tolentine Zeiser Community Life Agency, with the commitment to support new mothers as they work to achieve self-sufficiency, several Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt have ministered at Siena House.

Blauvelt Dominican Sisters Joan Marie McKinney, Mary Doris, Maggie McDermott, and Cely Byrnes
Sisters Joan Marie McKinney, Mary Doris, Maggie McDermott, and Cely Byrnes

Current Sisters of Saint Dominic who minister at Siena House include Sisters Mary Doris, Cely Byrnes, Lauria Fitzgerald, Maureen Gibbons, and Joan Marie McKinney.

When we first opened Siena House, I didn’t think I would be here for 30 years, nor did I think we would be open for 30 years,” shared Sister Mary, Director of Siena House. “They say time flies when you are having fun and for me, I’ve experienced a lot of fun here. My favorite part of the day is when I get to see and play with the babies at Siena House.”

Sister Cely, Director of Operations of Siena House, added,For 30 years, Siena House has been a safe and supportive environment for the many women who have come here.”

During the Anniversary celebration, Siena House staff and friends joined Sisters Mary and Cely in reflecting on their 30 years of caring.

Sister Mary expressed her gratitude for Siena House staff and residents, as well as shared her personal feelings of what this milestone meant to her.

“I’ve seen the value in Siena House for 30 years in the women who have resided here then have left and eventually came back to thank us, as well as let us know how they are doing. We’ve had some success stories, as well as sad ones, but as I have seen the struggle of the women here, hearing how they have gone on to find success because of their time here is such a joy. I know that we have made a difference for the women who have lived here.”

Those in attendance were also touched when Sister Mary shared reflections from former residents about their time at Siena House and how it helped them grow as both mothers and women.

A particular touching reflection that Sister Mary shared was one written by a former resident named Shaneem.

“Looking at this statue with your eyes,

you may only see a figure of a woman holding a child.

Well, look deeper. Look with your mind,

look with your heart, and then, look at your own life.

Surrounding the statue are flowers – beautiful,

blooming flowers that at one time were no more than

innocent seeds – seeds that were nourished in soil –

soil determined to bring out the magnificence of that innocent seed.

With the patience and strength of the soil beneath,

the flower began to push through the earth,

bringing forth the potential that was always within the seed.

The flowers have risen just as the child in this woman’s hand.

The woman has become the soil for that child.

She will be that soil giving her seed the strength

and support to come forth, to become a beautiful flower.

Here at Siena House, I have been encouraged to become the soil for my child.

I would like to say thank you because I now understand that my flower

will continue to bloom as long as I am there for support.”

Shaneem’s reflection was an example of many of the Siena House resident “success stories” that have impacted Sisters Mary and Cely.

Siena House has positively impacted most of the women who have come here, and it shows when there’s hardly a week where we don’t have a former resident who comes back with their children to stop in and say hello. When they are here, mothers and children often look for pictures of themselves while they resided at Siena House and even the children will come in and share how ‘my mother told me about this place and how we grew up here.’ Even at Christmas, we have had former residents return to Siena House and donate gifts to our mothers and children,” said Sister Cely.

Sister Mary added, “Having watched so many women come in here with their various backgrounds, some with horrible upbringings and tragic stories; being able to see them continue and move beyond Siena House and make a success of their lives is so meaningful.”

Even with the positive stories of former Siena House residents, both Sisters Cely and Mary believe that there is still a tremendous amount of work and advocacy needed to address the homelessness issue in New York City, and beyond.

Sister Cely expressed, I have been affected by the complicity in becoming homeless, as well as the political system not focusing on the reality of the homelessness. There are many times that the women who reside at Siena House are blamed for being homeless, and yet it’s nearly impossible for them to climb out of their situation. Whether they have made mistakes or just ran into bad luck in their life, we can help them at Siena House.”

Sister Mary also viewed the lack of affordable housing as a significant problem facing people in New York City, and beyond.

“Right now, many struggles that exist with homelessness are due to the lack of affordable housing. I would love it if we could continue to advocate for the improvement of our housing system. For the past 30 years, we have been trying to be a voice for the voiceless, and we need to continue to use our voices in our efforts to advocate for better housing for the low-income families and individuals in our communities.”

Even with the uncertainty of how these issues will be addressed in the future, Sister Mary is confident in Siena House’s value for women and children that are homeless and in need of a ‘safe haven.’

The most important thing that we want our current and future residents to know is that Siena House is a safe place for them, their children, and once they walk through these doors, we are here to help them.”

Siena House staff and friends gather together to celebrate their 30th Anniversary
Siena House staff and friends gather together to celebrate their 30th Anniversary


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