Invitations to participate in NunsBuild appeared at an Ursuline meeting In the summer of 2009. From the fliers we learned the essentials: The St. Bernard Project, an organization founded in 2006, was rebuilding hundreds of homes devastated by the floods after Hurricane Katrina, homes owned by families unable to afford contracting firms. The Project raised the funds to buy the materials and hire some professionals , but depended on volunteers to provide the labor – a week at a time, or a few days, or even one day. A group of sisters in the New Orleans area, including Ursuline Regina Marie Fronmuller, was recruiting nuns to volunteer for a specific week, either in June or October of that year.
Four of us from the East joined nine of our sisters from Central for a week in October. Under the direction of Charlie, a 19-year old Americorps volunteer who was our site supervisor, we learned how to install the insulation and wallboard in a small house that had been gutted and sealed with an anti-mold coating by teams before us. In addition, the foundational electrical work and plumbing had already been done by licensed professionals. By the end of our week, all the ceiling and wall insulation and half of the wallboard was in place. The next week’s team of volunteers would complete the drywall installation and move to the stage of “mudding” (plastering). Given the non-professional labor force, it typically takes
12 to 15 weeks to make a house ready for the family to move back in.
NunsBuild was repeated in 2010 and 2011 for one week in November, and both times our province has had four or five members participating. Our Province had sent with them generous financial donations to the Project. Both years, we Ursulines worked in teams which included sisters from different congregations and different parts of the country, and in 2011, with parishioners recruited by one of the nuns from Chicago. We were especially happy to have some tall men among them, more easily able than any of us to install the drywall on the ceilings!
We plan to build again this November, increasing our construction skills and our love for New Orleans and our sisters there. We are grateful for the tenacity of the organizers of this great project, and look forward again to the experience of helping one more family, seven years after Katrina, to come home at last.