Duchesne House for Volunteers in New Orleans, Louisiana, a ministry of the Society of the Sacred Heart, United States – Canada Province, will close at the end of August 2019.
Duchesne House opened in 2007 as a response to the needs of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Religious of the Sacred Heart have staffed the Duchesne House since its foundation. Today, Bonnie Kearney, RSCJ; Sergio Vasquez (an Associate); and Maureen Chicoine, RSCJ, are its current staff.
Duchesne House offers immersion and service programs for student groups and individuals, ages 16-30. Participants engage in service, reflection and cultural immersion through working on the rebuilding of a house; meeting people in New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina; touring the city; learning about the causes of the devastation; and engaging in group discussions with Religious of the Sacred Heart.
In more recent years, Duchesne House responded to the calls addressing race, poverty and environmental needs, said Sister Kearney. Programming included elements of reflective immersion and discussion on race in our country, and also brought in partners and organizations actively tackling environmental issues.
“Duchesne House is a wonderful example of being dynamic and agile in responding to need and reading the signs that say the mission is complete and there are other needs to which we can respond,” said Sheila Hammond, RSCJ, provincial of the United States – Canada Province.
The house, located on Bayou Road, currently is leased at a nominal rate from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The nearby church, parish hall and school previously were sold and developed. The archdiocese now has plans for the house.
The provincial leadership team, the Duchesne House staff and RSCJ in New Orleans underwent a discernment process to determine next steps.
“In the last few years, we had begun to notice that there were fewer homes being rebuilt to ‘bring families home,’” said Sister Kearney. “For the first time, Habitat for Humanity was building housing for rent or sale, and the Saint Bernard Project also was beginning to build for sale.”
Habitat for Humanity is an international nonprofit organization that helps people build or improve a place they can call home. The Saint Bernard Project is a New Orleans disaster resilience and recovery nonprofit organization.
Elaborating further on the Duchesne House mission, Sister Kearney explained, “We have seen New Orleans as a ‘laboratory’ for exploring, reflecting, questioning, sharing, from our ‘neutral ground’ – away from what is familiar and normative. Our hope was for each one who came here to go home with new eyes and hearts for their own schools, neighborhoods and families.”
“We are so grateful for the RSCJ and Associates and others of the New Orleans Community who made this ministry so vital and such an educational resource for all who came to serve there,” Sister Hammond shared.
The staff at Duchesne House affirms that letting go is difficult, but they are hopeful knowing that many will continue to dedicate their time, energy, spirit and desire to make this world a place for all people, who are, in truth, our brothers and sisters.
There is a list available of resources and other agencies that may be helpful for groups wishing to participate in service projects in New Orleans after this August. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.