Sister Mary Isaac Koenig, who founded St. Mary’s beat centermost and helped barrage Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, is backward Dec. 20.
When Sister Mary Isaac Koenig aboriginal came to Wilmington, aback in 1983, she started out walking aperture to aperture — through neighborhoods about what is now the Basilica Shrine of St. Mary, all the way to the accessible apartment on Greenfield Street.
“I’d aloof been to a branch in Washington,” she recalled, “and I didn’t appetite to appear beyond as ‘I’m from New York and I’m activity to acquaint you what to do.’ “
Instead she asked questions: What did the association need? And afresh she listened.
Koenig, the founding administrator of St. Mary’s amusing beat program, said she came aback with three basal needs: affordable housing, assignment and transportation.
“Middle chic families will commonly pay about 30 percent of their assets on housing,” she said. “For lower-income people, it ability be 70 percent of their income, if they can acquisition a place.”
“Poor bodies aren’t that altered from us,” she added. They appetite to work, and best of them accept jobs.” The busline botheration comes in, she noted, because best jobs aren’t in the areas area poor bodies live. To ability factories or malls, they charge a car or a bus ticket.
None of that has afflicted actual abundant in the accomplished 33 years. “The alone aberration is, there’s so abundant added charge now,” Koenig said, a trace of anguish in her voice.
Nevertheless, the woman that abounding alarm “the Mother Teresa of Wilmington” has affected for years to break those problems. She started St. Mary’s Amusing Beat Centermost and headed it up from 1985 to 1991 snd afresh from 2001 to the present. (In between, she served a appellation as American above for her order, the Society of St. Ursula of Anne de Xainctonge.)
That will be catastrophe soon. Koenig is backward from the centermost as of Dec. 20, and affairs to acknowledgment to the order’s centermost in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Mary Ann Kotas will be demography over the administration of the center, which St. Mary’s has renamed “the Sister Isaac Center,” in Koenig’s honor.
“Initially, I wasn’t actual blessed with it,” Koenig said, “but I anticipate it will appearance bodies there’s a continuity, the assignment is activity on.”
Now a ample assurance readng “SISTER ISAAC CENTER” hangs over the aperture to the basement of the celebrated Tileston School architecture at Fourth and Ann streets. Beneath the book is corrective a sunflower, Koenig’s admired flower. A boutonniere of sunflowers sits a the board in her baby office.
A built-in of Kingston, N.Y., Koenig grew up in a Roman Catholic family. She remembers her ancestor adage “Never let a dollar get amid you and a animal being.”
As a little girl, she admired cowboys, but she can’t bethink a time back she didn’t appetite to access the church. In 1953, at the age of 17, she took her aboriginal vows and entered the Ursulines as a sister. (Nuns, she acicular out, are cloistered; sisters assignment in the world.)
“It’s not the big Ursuline order,” she explained. “We were founded in 1606. Our architect was absorbed in educating women, which was absolutely advanced of its time. We came to this country in 1901.”
She accelerating from Marquette, becoming master’s degrees and boarded on a career in education, spending 24 years as a arch in biased schools in Milkwaukee, Providence, R.I., and added Northern cities.
Things afflicted in 1982, back she and addition Ursuline sister came to Wilmington to advise at St. Mary’s School.
“The calefaction took some accepting acclimated to,” she said, chuckling. (Fortunately, the Ursulines had dispensed with their acceptable thick, atramentous habits some years earlier.) Otherwise, she said, bodies were appealing abundant the aforementioned as they are everywhere.
In the aboriginal days, some bounded Protestants still beheld Catholics with some suspicion, “but I never suffered,” Koenig said. She anon accomplished beyond denominational lines, aing with assembly of 32 added churches in 1985 to barrage Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, the bounded aliment pantry. “The bounded aliment coffer couldn’t administer anon to individuals,” she said, “so article abroad was needed.”
The center’s 180 volunteers appear from abounding faiths, Koenig acclaimed proudly, although St. Mary’s archdiocese provides a lot of the adamantine labor.
The beat centermost distributes food, but alone on an emergency base for a few canicule or so, Koenig said. It distributes adults and children’s accouterment to those who charge it, and it works with Phoenix Hometown Hires to accommodate bodies with clean, accurate clothes and shoes for job interviews. “Dress for success,” Koenig said with a smile.
And the centermost passes out baby donations, about in amounts of $40 or less, to bodies who charge them — not in banknote but in checks for such items as electricity, heating or gasoline.
“Have I anytime been taken in? Probably — but not actual often,” Koenig said. “I let God handle them. And besides, what’s $40?”
Most guests, she added, assume to attention the centermost as a angelic space. “We’ve had some situations,” she said with a grin, “but we’ve never had to alarm the badge in.”
On a account of a little added than $200,000 — abundant of it from the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh and bounded Catholic parishes, but additionally alone donations of $5 to $10 — the centermost aided added than 7,000 bodies in 2015-2016. “We don’t alarm them ‘clients,’ ” Koenig said pointedly. “We alarm them ‘guests.’ ” A few above guests advice out, and Koenig pays them with checks for gas or ablaze bills. Almost all the staff, however, works for no pay at all, befitting costs low.
This doesn’t accommodate Hadden Hall, a low-income apartment circuitous on Caswell Street, called for a above St. Mary’s pastor. Koenig played a big role in accepting it started.
Over the years, Koenig’s assignment has accustomed a bank abounding of awards and citations. One of her first, and proudest, was a animal rights accolade in 1987 from the Baha’i association of Wilmington.
In 2006, the University of North Carolina Wilmington presented her with its Albert Schweitzer Honors Scholars Award, for embodying the ethics of the abundant theologian and medical missionary. In 2011, she catholic to Cary to accept the he Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the accomplished badge the Vatican awards to a layperson, from Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.
At the amount of Koenig’s assignment is a aesthetics of account for others. “In 2003, I got all the computers out of here,” she said. “I told the staff, we charge to allocution to people.
“Often what poor bodies appetite is aloof addition to accept to them. Sometimes, I admiration how some of them acquisition the backbone to get up in the morning.
“It all comes bottomward to accepting over our stereotypes about the poor. Really, they’re aloof like the blow of us.”
Reporter Ben Steelman can be accomplished at 910-343-2208 or [email protected]
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