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Miracle place: it’s more than just a name

This article is reprinted from winter 2006 issue of HOPE.

Beauty. Harmony. Balance.

During a Thanksgiving meal for senior citizens at Miracle Place in Indianapolis, Sister of Providence Marilyn Herber gave a short talk about her recent study of Native American religions, which she summarized with those three words.

Sister Marilyn, who is a volunteer at Miracle Place, could not have picked a more appropriate focus for her remarks at a ministry that, at its core, is about beauty, harmony and balance.

However, these attributes are not immediately apparent on a visit to the neighborhood. The senses are slammed with the sights, sounds and smells of urban decay around the 900 block of North Temple Avenue. Years of neglect have allowed street curbs to disintegrate. Weeds grow in the middle of the street. Squirrels and other city critters make their way into abandoned homes through broken windows and holes in roofs. Young adults hang out on porches and street corners during the middle of the workday.

Crime might be more the rule than an exception. Petty crime occurs with regularity. Prostitutes negotiate openly at the end of the block. Drug deals are an expected part of the action. The neighborhood is a frequent location for murders, shootings and other major crimes. The police have called it the worst area in Indianapolis.

In the midst of this chaos sits a cute, blue, two-story house. With its well-kept lawn and perfectly maintained exterior, the site is a relief to the eyes. It’s obvious that this isn’t just the home of a rare, proud homeowner. In the movies, this would be where the clouds part, a ray of light shines down and a choir of angels sings. There is something different here — something simple and beautiful happens in this place.

Sisters of Providence Barbara McClelland and Rita Ann Wade founded Miracle Place, opening its doors in August 2000. When they speak of starting the ministry, it’s easy to imagine the faces and thoughts of officials and neighbors who first heard their Pollyanna vision: to do whatever the community needed. It was easier to convince the Sisters of Providence General Council to support their efforts — going where the need is greatest has been a driving force of the SP mission since the Congregation’s beginning. With the council’s blessing, a New Ministries grant from the Congregation and a donation from a benefactor, Sisters Barbara and Rita Ann were off and running.

It didn’t take long to win over the naysayers, though. In just five years, the ministry has become fully supported by their own base of donors and gets superb support from local police, the neighborhood watch and residents.

The residents are a mix of elderly people who have lived there for decades and renters who may only stay a few weeks or months. Alarmingly, considering the nature of life in the neighborhood, many of the homes are filled with children. The sisters understood right away that the first need was to provide a safe haven for children.

“These children will often mention in their prayers, ‘Thank you for getting us to school safely,’” Sister Rita Ann said. “The children lack beauty in their lives,” Sister Barbara continued. “We want them to be able to experience God’s beauty in a way they haven’t before.”

The process is simple enough: the doors of Miracle Place are flung open each afternoon and children of every age come inside — for a safe place to be after school, for a place to get help with homework, for a place where love flows with abundance.

The program quickly made a difference in the lives of the children. Annie Kern, the area crime watch coordinator with the Indianapolis Police Department, described a story she overheard at a church function.

“This boy was talking about some sisters and how much they had helped him. He kept saying they had ‘saved his life.’ I finally found out he was talking about the sisters at Miracle Place,” Annie said. “He said he felt like it was a safe place for him, a loving place where he could go. When you think about being a 12-year-old boy and feeling alone, then someone reaches out to you, that is a big thing!”

Sisters Barbara and Rita Ann also discovered that the senior citizens of the neighborhood needed a place to gather simply for companionship and socializing. Miracle Place filled that need.

Three years ago, a grant of $280,000 was given to the sisters from Federal Home Loan Bank. Twenty homes, the majority belonging to the neighborhood senior citizens, benefited from this grant. More recently, the sisters have shifted their attention to a home-ownership project. Through a loan they received for neighborhood development, they have been able to purchase and begin the renovation of a house across the street.

“Many families go through this area. It’s a very transient life and it’s not good for the children. More stability and security would influence their schoolwork and make home a happier place to be,” Sister Rita said.

Sister Barbara said by renovating the home, which was an eye sore, they bring beauty to the neighborhood. The sale will bring a bit more stability to the area and provide affordable housing for a family. So far, dozens (if not more than a 100) volunteers have pitched in on the home renovation.

Through this project and previous Miracle Place projects, the sisters place their trust in God. If it is meant to be, then it is meant to be, they say.

It is all part of the beauty, harmony and balance plan.

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Rosie Blankenship

Rosie Blankenship is a graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She previously served in positions for the Sisters of Providence as the web site manager and annual giving manager.

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