Founding of McAuley House
In the early 1970s, a group of Sisters of Mercy, members of a Social Action Conference of Mercy, saw the social needs in Providence and envisioned a "McAuley House" to meet them.
In 1975, McAuley House became a reality. The Sisters rented a house on Gallup Street, aiming to meet the most basic needs of poor women, men and children on the South Side of Providence. The Sisters, working alongside dedicated volunteers, began providing food, clothing and community in an atmosphere of love and respect.
Sr. Eileen Murphy was the first director. She visited rooming houses and taverns, inviting people to a hot meal. The first day two people came. The next, a dozen. The daily crowds grew.
The House was founded with a belief in showing hospitality to those who were down on their luck, and so meals were served - as they are today - restaurant-style, one plate at a time. The meal began as an evening dinner, but shortly was offered at noon instead.
Early on, Gladys Hall arrived on the doorstep to offer her help. She became the McAuley House chef, making her famous soup, potato salad and other specialties for decades. Now in her 80s, she still volunteers. And the guests still recall her soup.
In 1976, Sister Theresa Beaudreau was appointed second director and Sister Eleanor Rock assistant director. As the numbers grew, the need for a larger house became evident. On June 7, 1977, a new McAuley House at 163 Niagara Street was purchased. It was officially opened on November 8, 1977.
Sister "Terry" and volunteer Father Ed Abbot, a priest at St. Michael's parish, nurtured a sense of community. The "crew" formed - made up of guests moving their lives forward, who volunteered daily at the House. The staff and guests in the summer began visiting a farm in Little Compton owned by volunteers Lou and Maureen Pieri, where guests gardened and visited the ocean. About 100 guests still visit the Pieri's farm every summer.
When the second McAuley House site opened on Niagara Street, the social services component of McAuley House began in earnest. In 1981, Sister Wilma Miley, based at Our Lady of Mercy parish in East Greenwich, joined the staff as an outreach worker. Sister Joan Rokicki joined soon after.
The outreach workers helped people with urgent needs for rental assistance, clothing and medicine. Outreach services were grounded in the belief that the most important service we can give is respect, deep listening, and compassionate presence.
Early in the decade, "de-institutionalization" across the state was leaving many people in need of supportive services to manage on their own. For this reason McAuley Community House on Farragut Avenue was established in 1983, and Sr. Joan appointed manager.
As the numbers of people needing a hot meal grew, the staff continued to affirm the sense of community at McAuley House through holiday celebrations on Christmas, Easter and Memorial Day, as well as the day-to-day rhythm. The staff took children to the circus and other events, and small groups of guests to outings at the homes of Our Lady of Mercy parishioners in East Greenwich.
Sister Dolores Crowley, who had begun serving as House administrator in the late 80s, left the position to become the executive director of the newly formed McAuley Ministries, which included the newly built McAuley Village. Sister Maris Stella Laliberti then became House administrator, followed by Sister Ann Welch in 1997.
During this decade, the kitchen was renovated and for the first time in its history, McAuley House had a disherwasher! Until then, staff and volunteered had washed every dish, fork and spoon by hand.
2000 Moving Forward:
After many years ministering in Belize, Sister Sue Lachapelle became House administrator in 2002. During her leadership, McAuley House moved from its Niagara Street location to its newly renovated home at 622 Elmwood Avenue, complete with a gleaming, restaurant-quality kitchen.
Moving the House to a location on the bus line vastly increased the number of guests visiting daily, and lunch now is served to up to 300 people each day. In 2005, the Rev. Mary Margaret Earl was named administrator.
During this decade, the Community House closed after 25 years of faithful service to its community residents.
The House began broadening its programming to include enrichment activities for its guests such as an art program, a writing workshop, Bible study, substance abuse support group and worship services. The staff and volunteers continue to focus on maintaining the House's sense of community, while meeting the needs of the times in the Spirit of Mercy.