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Shelter's name changes, but service to homeless remains

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Family Shelter is operating under a new name these days: the Mary Catherine McAuley Center for Women and Families.

For 21 years, the Omaha shelter, located at 613 N. 17th St., has been serving the needs of women and children with the financial support of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic lay organization dedicated to helping the needy.

Over the years the shelter has grown into a large operation "“ serving nearly 900 guests per year "“ and is now capable of running independently from the Society, said Barb Slaven, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society District Council.

The decision to separate from the shelter was mutual and seen as being in the best interest of both parties, she said. The house was sold to the shelter for $1.

'We pray that they will continue to be successful in their mission to aid the homeless as they embark on this new phase of their existence," Slaven said.

Rich Koeppen, executive director of the shelter, said he is grateful to the Society.

'The Society has been absolutely wonderful to us. They birthed us, they helped us grow," Koeppen said. 'In our estimation, we've become the finest shelter in the community."

The shelter chose to rename itself after Mary Catherine McAuley, a Catholic woman who started a shelter for homeless women and children in Ireland. She sheltered women and taught them skills, much like the mission of the Omaha shelter. She also founded the Sisters of Mercy, who have many members serving in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

'There is a symbiotic relationship and it was just perfect," Koeppen said. 'We also have a fond appreciation for what the Sisters of Mercy have done in the United States and particularly in our city and so that was appealing to us."

A picture of McAuley, donated by the Sisters of Mercy, now hangs in the entrance of the Omaha shelter.

Sister Patricia Forret, RSM, president of the Sisters of Mercy Omaha Regional community, said the sisters are very pleased that the shelter has chosen the name of their founder.

'We feel that the more Catherine McAuley can be known and appreciated for the work that she has done for the poor, particularly women and children, the more we're blessed," she said. 'Catherine McAuley is such a wonderful woman from her day, but she is so significant for our contemporary day."

Under the new name, the shelter will continue to provide emergency shelter, food, clothing and transitional housing to homeless families. And because it is a 'working" shelter, all guests that reside at the house will continue to engage in activities that contribute toward their ability to move toward self-sufficient living and self-development and growth. Guests take domestic violence classes and parenting classes and children receive tutoring every night of the week.

'We are learning more and more about how to care for our guests and we're also encouraging them and allowing them to play a role in how we construct our rules, and programs and services so that they feel less challenged and more benefited," Koeppen said.

Plans are under way to find ways to make up for the loss of funding, Koeppen said. A fund-raising dinner is set for Oct. 7 with all monies going to the shelter. The shelter's annual budget this year is $328,500, he said.

Koeppen said there haven't been any offers from the Sisters of Mercy to give financially to the shelter, nor have requests been made. However, there is a Sister of Mercy who is considering being on their board.

'We need, want and will survive. The issue is how," he said. 'I have hopes and we have good people to help us get from Point A to Point B to Point C financially."

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