BOARD – Catholic Social Services held a groundbreaking ceremony March 16 to begin the construction of a 24-unit apartment building to house women and children escaping domestic abuse and the pressure to abort. Members of the board of St. Gianna Women’s Homes pictured at the event are (from left) Greg Schleppenbach, Nancy Bird, Jenny Ackerman, Sister Jacqueline Darner, M.S., Jolene Ward, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Ginger O’Donnell, Lisa Marks, Cathy Reese, Pat Miller, Karen Largen, Catholic Social Services Executive Director Father Christopher Kubat, and Deb Schulte. (SNR photo by S.L. Hansen))
LINCOLN (SNR) - On Tuesday, March 16, Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz, Father Christopher Kubat, director of Catholic Social Services (CSS), Sister Jacqueline Darner, M.S., and others gathered to turn the first shovelfuls of dirt that will make way for the new 24-unit St. Gianna Women’s Homes.
The secure apartment building will be comprised of 24 one-, two- and three-bedroom units that will house women and children escaping domestic abuse and the pressure to abort. It will also include a chapel, daycare center, kitchen, exercise facility, commons area, and a small three-bedroom cloister for the Marian Sisters who will serve as caseworkers for the women living in the facility.
Father Kubat noted that the project was funded through the CSS “Expanding the Works of Mercy Campaign.” That campaign sought to raise $5 million for a number of CSS projects, and recently met that goal.
One purpose of the campaign was to consolidate Lincoln social services in a downtown location, which required purchasing and renovating its current building at 23rd and O streets. Another was to open a permanent gift and thrift store – St. Isidore – in Imperial, which opened March 8.
The campaign also acquired monies to start an endowment so that all CSS programs would have an ongoing supply of funds.
However, it was the St. Gianna Women’s Homes project that inspired the generosity of many throughout the diocese.
“Response to this project was just tremendous across the diocese,” Father Kubat said. “This is the one element that struck the heartstrings of most people.”
All told, it will take $3 million to build the new apartment building, and somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 to run it each year. For that reason, fundraising efforts for St. Gianna Women’s Homes will be ongoing.
Father Kubat said that currently, it is “very, very difficult” for CSS to care for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse or the threat of abortion.
“There’s just not enough beds,” he lamented.
At present, the best CSS can do is help a woman find an apartment, furnish it, pay the first month’s rent, fill the cupboards with food and help the woman find a job. Sometimes, CSS resorts to putting someone up in a motel, but that is cost-prohibitive.
Recently, CSS helped a woman from south-central Nebraska who was living with her children in a shed equipped with just a space heater. Another CSS client was living in her car with her children. CSS is in desperate need for more housing to accommodate these women in crisis.
“We do our best, but there just isn’t enough space to house these victims,” said Father Kubat. “It’s an incredible challenge.”
St. Gianna Women’s Homes will enable CSS to provide safe and clean temporary housing for at-risk women from across the diocese. The program will accept women of any age, religion or ethnicity who are being threatened by domestic abuse or who are being pressured into abortion by partners, parents, finances or other factors.
The project is named for St. Gianna Beretta Molla. She was an Italian mother, physician and social worker who faced a uterine tumor while she was pregnant with her fourth child.
Choosing her baby’s life over cancer treatment, St. Gianna gave birth to a healthy daughter and died one week later, on April 28, 1962. Her daughter, also named Gianna, became a physician and has continued her mother’s legacy, though by caring for the aged instead of working as a family doctor. St. Gianna’s family also operates a charitable foundation to help the needy.
Construction of the new apartment building for St. Gianna Women’s Homes will take about 10 months. Meanwhile, fundraising will continue in earnest, with “First Friday Fish Fry” dinners at the main CSS building in Lincoln at 23rd and O (during months outside of Lent only), a new cake walk and cake auction fundraiser called “That Takes the Cake,” and several other creative ideas.
Donations to the project can also be sent to CSS, 2241 O St., Lincoln, NE 68510. Father Kubat is gratified that so many people in the diocese understand the dire need for St. Gianna Women’s Homes.
“It’s very edifying,” he said. “It’s very exciting that we’re really going to be able to help so many more women and their children.”