Nun on a Mission to End Homelessness: Philly’s Sister Mary Scullion Among Time’s 100 Most Influential

Every year, Time magazine names 100 individuals to its Most Influential People list. This year there were some obvious names on the list, such as Barack and Michelle Obama; as well as some predictable names like Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and George Clooney.

There were also some people on the list that keep a lower profile but are making a big impact on the world stage and in our lives. Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder and executive director of Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia, is one of these people.

“The Time 100 is not a list of the most powerful people in the world, it’s not a list of the smartest people in the world, it’s a list of the most influential people in the world,” says Time’s managing editor Rick Stengel. “They’re scientists, they’re thinkers, they’re philosophers, they’re leaders, they’re icons, they’re artists, they’re visionaries.”

Scullion was included in the “Heroes & Icons” section of the list, along with Michelle Obama, Rick Warren, Tiger Woods and 16 others. This is a perfect fit for Sister Mary. I have always thought of her as both a hero and an icon. Her status as an icon is described in the Time piece on Scullion, written by “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert, where Scullion was cited for her tireless efforts as a leader in the fight against poverty and homelessness in Philadelphia.

When the 55-year-old nun heard the news that she had been named to Time’s prestigious list, she admits being very surprised. In her usual unassuming and humble manner she said, “Well to be honest, it’s a very huge and unbelievable honor. But, I also feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to work at Project H.O.M.E. with Joan (McConnon) and the rest of our phenomenal staff, and the residents, and our partners.”

Scullion, the daughter of Irish immigrants, entered the convent at age 19. In 1988, along with Joan McConnon, she started Project H.O.M.E. (Housing, Opportunities for Employment, Medical Care, Education) to empower people to break the cycle of homelessness, address the structural causes of poverty, and attain their fullest potential as members of society.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia has one of the lowest rates of persons living on the streets among the nation’s largest cities; about 600 persons live on the streets of Center City Philadelphia, compared to more 40,000 in Los Angeles. Philadelphia has made significant progress, but with current economic conditions, the plight of the homeless is even more timely and pressing.

Over the years, Project H.O.M.E. has helped more than 8,000 people break the cycle of homelessness and poverty by providing a continuum of care that includes street outreach, supportive housing and comprehensive services that focus on health care, education, and employment.

Scullion sees Time’s honor more as “a recognition that the issue of homelessness is something that people want to address in a deeper way” than a personal honor for her. She goes on to say, “I fully recognize that I don’t really deserve any honor,” and “the best gift and the greatest honor is to be privileged to work within our community.”

“The real heroes and prophets are the men, women, and children who are on the streets and in the shelters. They are my inspiration and strength,” says Scullion. “Their courage and determination and their ability to endure so much suffering–I think that through those relationships, I have been transformed and I find a lot of strength and inspiration.”

Lynne Honickman, philanthropist and founder of Moms Against Guns, has worked with and supported Scullion and Project H.O.M.E. through the years. Honickman says, “in long-term meaningful help for the homeless and underserved, her being counted as one of Time magazine’s Most Influential 100 People in the world will serve to put a spotlight on universal homelessness—and hopefully to open many political doors that until now remained a bit ‘stuck.’”

Part of Scullion’s ability to truly make a difference lays in her innate talent to reach people at whatever level they are on. Honickman says that in addition to creating viable programs that really work, Scullion “is on the front line of every effort she and Project Home initiate: She knows every person, she knows every name…be it client, staff, board of trustees.”

“Her dedication and compassion know no bounds,” Honickman says. “Scullion leverages her connections to protect, engage, encourage, enlighten and lift up any and all who need a hand, to a place where realizing one’s full potential is possible. Sister Mary is a gift and a blessing to all who know her…to her community, her city and our world.”

Scullion is known for being able to handle the tactical elements of fighting homelessness, as well as thinking strategically for the long term. Lee Jacobs, a former Project H.O.M.E. employee, says he was amazed by Scullion’s ability to “manage the grassroots and couple that with her ability to pitch her mission to top-level CEOs for financial support.” He also noted that a lot of people look at homelessness and think it’s terrible, but do nothing– Scullion “saw the issue and actually decided to do something about it.”

“We are so proud of Sister Mary,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. “Her passion and influence have been crucial to the progress we have made in reducing homelessness across our city. Her quiet dignity belies her willingness to speak up for the voiceless and fight for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It’s time the rest of the world got to know our Sister Mary.”

While Scullion is definitely low-key, she is excited about the red-carpet reception for all of the honorees being held Tuesday, May 5. She is especially looking forward to meeting Norah al-Faiz of Saudi Arabia, who runs a program in women’s education. She is also hoping to meet Michelle Obama. She says, “We would love her to get more involved in being the First Lady representing the issue of homelessness.” If there is anyone who can convince the First Lady to jump in with both feet on the issue of homelessness, it’s Scullion.

With people like Scullion leading the way, there is hope for an end to homelessness. She is, and has been a true inspiration for many years. As the Philadelphia mayor accurately noted, it’s about time the world got to know her, so that the reach of her work can continue to grow.

“None of us are home until all of us are home.” -Project H.O.M.E.

-To learn more about Sister Mary Scullion and Project H.O.M.E., visit http://www.projecthome.org/.

-Read the TIME Magazine article on Sister Mary Scullion.

-See Time’s full 100 Most Influential People feature.