DAVENPORT, Iowa — For 153 years, St. Mary's Catholic Church sat on the corner of W 6th St and Fillmore in Davenport, housing thousands of funerals, weddings, and church services. Now, after a century and a half of service, the old structure is getting a new mission... although perhaps not too far removed from its original purpose.
The church closed its doors in October of 2020, after the Catholic Dioceses decided to merge it with the parish of St. Anthony's Church. Two months later, the entire property was bought by local nonprofit, Humility Homes and Services Inc., whose mission is to end homelessness in the Quad Cities.
After months of renovations, the new "Jubilee Campus" is up and running.
St. Mary's old convent has been transformed into Humility's new administration offices; the rectory is now affordable housing for low-income individuals; the parish center acts as a gathering space; and the church itself is the new "Fresh Start Donation Center."
"It actually feels like what we're meant to be doing and where we're supposed to be," said Ashley Velez, Executive Director of Humility Homes. "Our shelter building is a five minute walk from here, we own [low-income housing] properties just a few blocks from here. Some individuals who are experiencing homelessness and sleeping outside, their camps are close to here."
Humility has long worked with people experiencing homelessness in Davenport, and believes in a housing-first program, by building, renovating or provide low-income homes - especially for the elderly and single parents.
They said moving their offices to the West end of Davenport, at the Jubilee Campus, allows them to be even closer to many individuals they serve on a daily basis.
But it goes beyond just providing housing, says Velez.
"I mean, you can go into an apartment, you can go into a house, but unless you have it decorated with your items, and you really feel that it's yours, and that you feel that ownership over it, it really is just a house," she said, saying the work then becomes turning a house into a home. "And our vision is a home for every person."
And that's exactly what the Fresh Start Donation Center is for.
What was once rows of pews, filled with kneelers and hymnals, is now filled with donation racks: clothing, kitchen essentials, furniture, blankets, and much, much more. The center is open from 9am until 4pm, Monday through Friday, for public shopping.
"It's kind of like a little estate shop," said Velez.
But for people enrolled in Humility's housing programs, all of those items are free.
"Our participants, they're able to come access anything here, free of charge for their new home. And so it's really great. One of our values is, you know, we believe in dignity of a person and the worth of a person. And so coming in here, it doesn't look like your typical Donation Center. It really looks like a store. And so you just feel more like a person coming in," said Velez.
She added that some of those items - like clothing and shoes - are often things people on the brink of homelessness have to go without, in order to make rent or utility payments.
"When you have a service like this in the community, you know, we have brand new shoes. We can help you with that. And then you don't have to make that choice," she said.
It's a dream Sister Mary Ann Vogel said was one more exciting milestone in Humility's incredible journey.
Vogel is the president of the congregation of the Humility of Mary, and a founding member of what has become Humility Homes and Services. Three decades ago, she and her fellow sisters saw a need for affordable housing and got to work in the Quad Cities.
"You can't work on goals until you have a place where you can feel safe, and know that you have a place to come to every day," said Vogel.
She remembers attending mass at St. Mary's, years ago when she lived just down the block. To her, the transformation of the old structure is fitting.
"It's nice to know that these buildings are going to be used for a purpose that is so in line with what our church is all about," she said. "What we are all about with our community, our sisters, our mission, which is to work for justice within the human family."
In fact, the Fresh Start Donation Center is actually named after an effort her own mother began, with a garage sale back in 1990. Vogel's mom passed away a year before the Jubilee Campus was established and opened, but Vogel said it's still a beautifully complete circle.
The center will celebrate its grand opening with a community block party on Saturday, June 26th, from 11am until 2pm. There will be free food, giveaways, live entertainment, tours and more.