Sister Marilyn was instrumental in providing affordable housing in Omaha

Sister of Mercy Marilyn Ross had a passion for helping low income individuals and families acquire quality, affordable housing.

During 32 of her 63 years of religious life, she made that her mission, working with Holy Name Housing Corporation in Omaha, including as executive director.

Sister Marilyn died April 14 at age 83.

A funeral Mass was held April 19 at Mercy Villa, with burial of her cremains to take place April 25 at Resurrection Cemetery, both in Omaha.

A native of Kansas City, Missouri, she entered the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha in 1958, professing first vows in 1961 and final vows in 1966.

Her early career included teaching at schools in Red Bluff, California, and Joplin and Independence, Missouri, as well as serving on the vocations team for her order.

One day, viewing a bumper sticker that read “Holy Name neighborhood – a good place to live,” she was intrigued to learn more and found that two priests and a parishioner of Holy Name Parish had started Holy Name Housing Corporation, which began renovating houses to help low income individuals and families acquire suitable housing.

Sister Marilyn could relate to the organization’s goal of revitalizing the declining north Omaha neighborhood, having seen her childhood Kansas City neighborhood experience similar needs.

In 1983 Sister Marilyn joined Holy Name Housing as a grant writer. Five years later she became executive director, a post she held until she retired in 2015. During that time, the organization built or renovated hundreds of homes.

She also raised more than $65 million for housing projects and implemented home ownership and credit card management training programs for those the organization served.

Sister Marilyn received numerous honors including the Dorothy Day Peacemaker of the Year Award from Pax Christi USA, a Special Mention award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a tribute from the Omaha YWCA for her work to eliminate racism and empower women, the Mother Qualberta Award from the Notre Dame Sisters of Omaha, and was named to the Holy Name Hall of Fame.

She also was involved with Hispanic ministry and served on the National Equity Fund board of directors.

In a 2015 written tribute by her order marking Sister Marilyn’s retirement, a Holy Name Housing staffer at the time Lisa Burks said: “The impact Sister Marilyn Ross has made on Omaha’s community cannot be measured. Under her leadership … Holy Name Housing Corporation has grown from a small, grassroots organization into the premier developer of affordable housing, not only in the city, but in the state of Nebraska.”

“Her tireless efforts to better our community over the years are truly a model for what can be accomplished with a lot of innovative thinking and a lot of faith,” Burks said.

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