Posted May 19, 2016

A vow of service

Sister Mary Scullion, SSW ’87, is on a mission to end homelessness. 

Sister Mary Scullion standing in front of a window, looking out on a mural.
Photography By: 
Joseph V. Labolito
Sister Mary Scullion, SSW ’87, has grown Project HOME from a temporary shelter to an organization that serves 15,000 people in Philadelphia, providing everything from housing to health care to college access programs for high school students.

Sister Mary Scullion, SSW ’87, has been quoted by President Obama, celebrated in Time magazine and credited with the fact that Philadelphia has the lowest rate of homelessness among the 10 largest cities in the U.S., despite it having the highest rate of poverty.

But Scullion attributes her accomplishments to “the power of we.” It’s what she credits with the success of Project HOME, the nonprofit organization she cofounded in 1989 to provide services to the homeless in Philadelphia. And it’s a lesson she learned as a graduate student at Temple.

“I discovered a lot at Temple about the importance of partnership and collaboration,” she says. “We all have to be involved in ending homelessness.”

It was her own desire to be involved and passion for social justice that led Scullion to enter the convent at age 19. “I was inspired by the Sisters of Mercy,” she says, “by the work they did with those living on the margins.”

She began working with the homeless as a young nun, and with other Sisters of Mercy started Mercy Hospice in 1976, the first shelter in Philadelphia open seven days a week. Scullion had earned an undergraduate degree at Saint Joseph’s University after joining the Sisters but realized additional skills and education would benefit her work. So she applied to Temple, where she earned her master’s degree in social work while working full time.

“I loved the School of Social Work,” Scullion says. “There was so much real-life experience, and I had excellent professors.” She was most strongly influenced by Associate Professor Philip Jaslow, whom, she says, “was a tremendous teacher and had a great impact on my life.”

The impact she felt at Temple helped Scullion have an impact on thousands of Philadelphians over the next 25 years. Soon after earning her master’s degree, she started a temporary emergency winter shelter in the locker room of the swimming pool at a local recreation center.

“But we realized shelter wasn’t enough; people needed housing, so we focused on affordable housing,” she says. “Then we saw housing wasn't enough; people needed jobs and education and healthcare.” To address all those needs, she and Joan McCannon founded Project HOME. HOME is an acronym for housing, opportunities for employment, medical care and education.

In the 25 years she has led the organization, it has grown from that temporary shelter to the provider of more than 700 units of housing and now includes a state-of-the-art technology and education center and a wellness center in North Philadelphia. In 2015 alone, Project HOME served 15,000 people, providing everything from housing to primary care visits to college access programs for high school students.

“Many organizations do one or two of these things,” says Scullion. “What makes Project HOME unique is the comprehensiveness of the services we provide to both end and prevent homelessness.”

What also makes Project HOME unique is that Sister Mary Scullion is at its helm, changing and saving lives in the city of Philadelphia and across the world.

Learn more about the impact of Temple alumni.