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Sister Mary Scullion: A Call to Action

March 19, 2011

Part 4 of a four-part series about the 2011 Sparer Symposium

By Jenny Chung C’12

Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder, executive director and president of Project H.O.M.E.

The 2011 Edward V. Sparer Symposium concluded with remarks from Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder, executive director and president of Project H.O.M.E., who characterized the legal profession as a “powerful tool for social progress and securing fundamental liberties and opportunities” in spite of the many challenges and difficult choices it currently faces.

“The legal system was established with the highest ideal of preserving democracy, human rights and helping society realizing the greatest well-being,” she said.

Despite this, many lawyers prioritize “selling their talents to the highest bidder” over achieving genuine justice, Scullion said, at times resulting in instances in which “the law blunts human rights and individual liberties.”

She cautioned those in attendance against “committing adultery of the brain”—a far more egregious offense than its fleshly counterpart—and encouraged them to “use [their] gifts for social and economic justice,” an ideal “more difficult to come by than it sounds.”

Scullion then commended the audience for its efforts toward aiding the impoverished and homeless, which she termed “invaluable contributions.”

“Because of your commitment, hard work and intelligence, we have seen important victories in securing the right to shelter for Philadelphians, and winning the right to vote for people who are homeless,” she said.

One such triumph, Scullion said, occurred on Fairmount Avenue, where Project H.O.M.E. had attempted to develop a residence for formerly homeless men and women. Both community groups and political forces had initially opposed the project.

“The fight went on for four years in courts, on streets and in the arena of public opinion,” she said. “This wasn’t a fight over a building in a particular neighborhood: it was a fight for civil and human rights.”

With the assistance of a legal team in Philadelphia along with other allies, the group won a decision in its favor based on the Federal Fair Housing Act. The results of this landmark fair housing case enabled 1515 Fairmount Avenue to serve as a home to 48 men and women.

Ironically, Scullion observed, after the project was under way the neighborhood around the building experienced significant rises in property values.

“Those who once vigorously opposed us are now supporting a second development in the same area,” Scullion said. “But without the law and without such talented lawyers as the graduates and teachers at Penn,” she added, the victory could not have been realized.

Calling for the legal community to “reframe the discussion around homelessness,” Scullion maintained that while it may be tempting to perceive homelessness as “intractable” and an “inevitable part of the urban landscape,” she is confident it can be resolved.

“We know the kinds of programs and services that work. We know that there are no throwaway people or children, and with your leadership and talent we believe collectively we can make America the land that it beckons us to be—a land of meaningful opportunity for every single person to succeed,” she said. “As our communities become more divided and segregated economically, we must figure out new ways to use our legal talents and skills to provide more inclusion and opportunity for every child to get the type of education you’ve gotten.”

Flickr: 2011 Public Interest Week Pictures