Sister Cathy Buster called “heart and soul” of new migrant farm family community in Arcadia, Fla.
As a realist, I don’t often get blown away, but in November 2012, when Sister of Providence Cathy Buster gave me a tour of Casa Juan Bosco in Arcadia, Fla., I experienced that feeling of being with someone who could dream dreams and marshal the resources to make them come true in mega form. With eight years of hard work, strong trust in Providence, and the wit, wisdom and skills of a true collaborator, this friend of mine had helped to bring a community, a whole neighborhood into existence.
Just days ago, on Jan. 23, 2013, I had the joy of participating in the blessing and official opening ceremony for the CSJB community [photo album], the largest green community for farm worker families in the state of Florida. That event culminated eight years of hard work of creating coalitions, securing funding, navigating various bureaucracies and trusting in Providence by Sister Cathy and her colleagues to assure that her dream of providing “healthy sustainable, energy efficient and attractive yet affordable housing for farm workers” could become a reality.
The dream began after Hurricane Charley, a near category five hurricane, swept away farm worker housing in DeSoto County, one of Florida’s poorest areas, in August 2004. Working with Catholic Charities Housing of the Diocese of Venice, Sister Cathy and her colleagues formed a not-for-profit corporation to create hurricane proof and “green” affordable housing for farm worker families. Tirelessly for eight years, Sister Cathy created the relationships that would result in the Community of San Juan Bosco that was dedicated recently.
The community currently consists of 53 single-family rental homes with three or four bedrooms and two baths. A community center at the entrance to CSJB includes a computer room, library, room for social events and management office. Just beyond the center is a tot lot and soccer fields. In addition, green spaces are in front of the homes to encourage children to play and their parents to interact. A bus shelter is there for local public buses and school buses to stop at CSJB.
The community sits on 30 acres of an 86 acre parcel. Sister Cathy envisions additional parts of the parcel in the years ahead to include a small grocery store, 50 some additional homes, and a complex for senior citizens as funding becomes available. SCJB also includes 23 acres of wetlands. The first families approved for home at CSJB are expected to move in within days. They will find beautiful welcome baskets prepared for them by members of Council of Catholic Women at St. Maximillian Kolbe Parish from Port Charlotte, Fla.
During the eight-year journey to the Jan. 23 blessing, Sister Cathy and her colleagues encountered roadblocks but always felt the power of Providence. At one point, for example, they thought they had the parcel of land they needed only to learn from officials that it could not be used for the housing they envisioned. They had one week to secure an alternate site.
At that point, Eugene Turner, president of Turner Realty stepped up and offered 86 acres of pastureland upon which SJBC now sits. With the support of Peter Routsis-Arroyo, CEO of DOV Catholic Charities, and initial grants from that agency, Sister Cathy successfully gained other funding from Florida Housing Finance Corporation, SAIL and Home loans and grants, the United States Department of Agricultural Funding rural develop loans and grants, the Citrus Growers of Associations and parishes in the diocese. She also attended countless hearings and lobbied those from whom she needed support. Many of those who had been part of the eight year journey were present for the blessing.
At the event, Routsis-Arroyo characterized Sister Cathy as the “heart and soul” of this community. “She made it her mission to be sure that Casa San Juan Bosco would happen.” He also praised Sister Ann DeNicolo, BVM, from the DOV Arcadia Office of Catholic Charities, who also shared the dream of providing quality affordable housing for farm workers and in whose district CSJB is located.
Calling Sister Cathy a “real go-getter, that you can’t refuse,” Ron Hamel, executive vice-president of Citrus Growers Association, Inc., handed a $2,000 check to Sister Cathy as seed money to get started on the kitchen for the community center.
Speaking for the USDA that provided federal grants, Richard Machek praised Sister Cathy and the team that planned and implemented SCJB for “raising the bar very high” in the quality they had put into each house and element of the community.
Father James A. Carosella, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande, Fla. , whose parish funded the community center that bears its name, glowed with pride as he congratulated all those who worked so hard to make CSJB a reality. “I am very delighted with the result,” he said.
A fiesta followed the formal ceremony featuring many wonderful Mexican dishes and music by a spirited Mariachi Band from Miami. The Congregation’s general superior, Sister Denise Wilkinson, plus 10 other Sisters of Providence and Providence Associate Sheila Donis were among the 300-plus donors and potential farm-worker families who will live at SCJB who joined in blessing prayers and formal opening. Sister Cathy’s brother Tom, several nieces and nephews, and other family members also were on hand. Before departing, Sister Cathy and her relatives and groups of SPs gathered beneath the SE Buster road sign.
As I write these lines, I am certain that the story is not finished. This is only the first installment of the Casa San Juan Bosco story. I look forward to returning to Arcadia in the future for the blessings of the next phases that Sister Cathy envisions for the community. For I know, if Sister Cathy envisions it, it will happen. She is “a go-getter,” woman of Providence who will rally the folks she needs around her to grow the kitchen, the houses and the senior citizen apartments at CSJB that she has on the drawing board of her mind.