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It’s God’s project

This article is reprinted from winter 2008 issue of HOPE.

In August 2004, Hurricane Charley ripped through Arcadia, Fla., destroying homes and jobs for migrant workers. Today, the Sisters of Providence have their own veritable force of nature, Sister Cathy Buster, working to build Casa San Juan Bosco, a “green” housing development for farm workers who were displaced by the storms. Casa San Juan Bosco should be completed in October 2008.

The Arias family of eight is typical of people who will profit from the Casa San Juan Bosco development. They are currently living in the model home and paying rent with the option to own the house in five years. Fidel, the father, after 30 years working in the Florida citrus fields, could finally afford to move the six youngest of 10 children and his wife from Mexico to the United States in 2003 so they no longer had to be separated during the growing season. Like many farm workers after the storms, they were living in two half-trailers with a roof made out of blankets.

The 71-year-old Sister of Providence’s motto is “Jesus never fails” and she’s had ample opportunity to put it to the test. Sister Cathy also has the Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., her employer, on her side. For the Casa San Juan Bosco project, she raised social and economic awareness and county support to get the building of 125 new homes approved. She’d never written a grant, but she’s raised just half a million shy of the $27-million price tag.

Besides her most recent work in Arcadia, she’s also worked with federal, state and local entities to promote partnerships and secure funding for affordable housing communities for low-income elderly, homeless single-parent families and independent people with disabilities who have HIV/AIDS.

A Sister of Providence for 51 years, Sister Cathy has answered God’s call to use her varied talents in many ways. She spent 18 years as a cook and food service director, working for the Congregation and various Marriott Corp. locations.

When she “retired” from her food service career, she became involved in Cathedral Square Towers in Kansas City, Mo., a diocesan-sponsored facility, and worked with a HUD Section 8/202 facility for independent people who were elderly and had disabilities.

After moving to Florida, Sister Cathy (at age 60) returned to school, got her real estate license and was hired by Just Like Home in Bradenton the day after she passed her exam. In 1997, she founded Just Like Family Inc., an organization that supports the needs of older adults, enabling them to continue to live independently in their own homes with quality of life, dignity and security. She began work with the Diocese of Venice in 1999 and handled all real estate transactions for 10 counties and 10,000 square miles. From 2005 to the present, she’s been an independent contractor for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc.

Sister Cathy has no time to retire. The bishop has already asked her to begin work on an additional site for young mothers with infants. And she’s been asked to work on a diocesan property to create housing for entry-level workforce in community service — the groundskeepers, janitors and housekeepers. They’ll receive on-the-job training.

“I told everybody when I was asked to do this, ‘it’s God’s project and God’s in charge,’” said Sister Cathy. “I have Saint Mother Theodore Guerin helping on the side because she built community and that’s what I’m doing with the farm workers and God’s working poor. How can you say ‘no?’”

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Diane Weidenbenner

Diane Weidenbenner is the annual fund manager and donor relations for the Sisters of Providence Advancement Services office. She's also a Providence Associate.

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