Witness & Grace Conversations: Sister Experts Talk Homelessness

Presented by Sr. Jean Quinn and Sr. Mary Scullion and hosted by GSR's Chris Herlinger

February 9, 2022



The issue of homelessness is growing – the economic fallout and continuing health crisis during the ongoing pandemic has caused skyrocketing rents, joblessness, dislocation and other problems, adding to the ranks of those made homeless. Catholic sisters around the world are helping with homelessness and affordable housing issues as our award-winning series A Place to Call Home demonstrated.

Global Sisters Report discussed the issues and solutions with two sisters who are dedicated to solving the problem of homelessness. 



Apron prayer from Sr. Jean Quinn

Mercy, I realized, wears an apron. As
forgiveness often wears a shield and
love sometimes wears overalls,
mercy always wears an apron.

An apron, as a noun, is a garment
worn to protect the clothes of the
wearer…as a verb, it means to
surround in the manner of an apron
(“the inner city is aproned by lowcost
housing”) One can be
unaproned or apron-like …issues can
be an apriorism and apropos.

My maternal grandmother always
wore an apron. Not just in the
kitchen, but as she prayed the rosary
or sat for family photographs. While
canning rhubarb or cutting
watermelon, cooking dinner, or
chatting on the phone…her apron
carried her secrets. What would be
served for dinner was partially
smeared on the front. The list of
things needed for shopping was
stuck in a front pocket. The rare
peppermint candy she would share
with a tearful child…the blood spot
that wiped clean a nick on her pinky

Her apron was the diary of her day.
And I knew that it was protective
covering something even better…my

But there is another definition for
the noun apron: a continuous
conveyor belt for bulk materials,
consisting of a chain of steel plates.
No art palette of protection, this…no
pockets of peppermint candy or lists
of need drawn up for later reference.
This apron is a mover of heaviness,
bulky and weighted… continuous…
necessary and strong.

Mercy, I realized tonight, wears an
apron. The weighted bulk, the
heaviness in my heart needs an
internuncio, a messenger, a porter….
something to help me get there --- to
arrive at mercy, unburdened and

Forgiving and compassionate. I
need a return from the exile …a
visceral mercy, the kind born of

that begins with a generous desire
and will one day become a blessing.
We pray that our heavy hearts be
loosened from the weight of an
accumulated, sad doom bathed in
restlessness and disgust.

Yes, it begins with generous desire
and may it one day become a


Sr. Jean Quinn, a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom, is executive director of the United Nations-based advocacy group UNANIMA. She is recognized internationally as an advocate for those experiencing homelessness, including her leadership in helping bring the issue of homelessness to U.N. forums. Quinn worked with the homeless in Dublin, Ireland, for many years, where she founded Sophia Housing, an organization committed to providing a holistic approach in supporting people on their journey from homelessness. 

Sr. Mary Scullion, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, heads Project HOME in Philadelphia and is widely recognized for her decades-long work on behalf of those experiencing homelessness. She helped co-found Project HOME in 1989 and the organization has been hailed for its supportive housing, employment, education and health care programs. The recipient of numerous honors, including an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University, Scullion was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2009.

Chris Herlinger, Global Sisters Report's international correspondent, will host this event. Chris reports on the United Nations and has covered humanitarian issues in a number of countries, including South Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He initiated the project on homelessness by Global Sisters Report in 2020 and covered the related meetings at the United Nations.

See all of our past and upcoming Witness & Grace Conversations.