Danielle Pittman (left) looks on while Archbishop Jerome Listecki blesses the Sr. Thea Bowman home on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Also pictured are Fr. Tim Kitzke (right) and John Borgen (back), the CEO of Catholic Financial Life. Construction and financing of the home was a collaboration between Catholic organizations and parishes, and Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity. (Photo by Colleen Jurkiewicz)
It was written on Danielle Pittman’s face as she stood in the entryway of her new home on Milwaukee’s northwest side: there’s no feeling like that first-house feeling.
Tears sparkled in Pittman’s eyes as she and her daughter Zuria took it all in — the sun-filled living space, the brand-new countertops and the freshly installed carpeting.
“I’m just so excited, happy,” she said. “Just ready to move in. I’ve worked so hard. I’m ready to decorate.”
When she closes on her mortgage, Pittman will be the proud new owner of the Sr. Thea Bowman Catholic House, one of four recent “faith build” houses for Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity. Construction on the Sr. Thea Bowman House was made possible by lead gifts from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Catholic Financial Life and the Family of Four Parishes on Milwaukee’s East Side.
On the afternoon of Friday, April 21, Pittman was joined by Archbishop Jerome Listecki; Fr. Tim Kitzke, pastor of Family of Four Parishes; Catholic Financial Life CEO John Borgen; and Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers for a blessing of the home.
A house blessing, said Archbishop Listecki, “is a commitment to this structure, a commitment to ask for God’s protection on all those who will occupy this home, that it may exemplify the loving presence of God and those who will dwell here.”
“We ask for that special blessing on this home, and at the same time, we add our special prayers for those who helped to construct it,” he said.
The home, continued the archbishop, “is one of heart, of people on their knees praying. It’s one of hands, people who have been sweating in order to make sure that drywall and all those things get up that are necessary. It’s one of head, where individuals have gone out to promote Habitat for Humanity and the importance (of its mission).”
“To the deep and abiding love that binds the family together, we dedicate this home,” read Borgen, reciting the Litany of Life after the Archbishop’s blessing. “To the training of the bodies, minds and souls of all who live within, we dedicate this home. To the understanding, patience, discipline and forgiveness essential for the growth and fulfillment of these families, we dedicate this home.”
In his remarks, Fr. Tim Kitzke noted that the afternoon’s weather was remarkably fairer than it had been earlier in the week.
“It’s a little brighter out because of what we’re doing here,” he said. “Danielle, know that the light is always shining on you and your beautiful daughter and anyone who visits your home.”
The house blessing was also attended by volunteers who had worked on the home, including George Gama, a parishioner of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish who had “done a little bit of everything,” he said, over the last few months as the work site developed from a freshly dug basement to a completed house.
“I really enjoy it,” he said of volunteering with the Family of Four Parishes Habitat for Humanity ministry. More than a dozen other parishioners joined Gama in regularly pitching in at the work site of the Sr. Thea Bowman House and other Habitat for Humanity builds. “I like being with the people from church, and we’re working to do something good. It’s really fulfilling. It feels great.”
Seeing Pittman on the steps of her new home, receiving a Bible from the Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Brian Sonderman and beaming with pride, was “really nice,” said Gama.
“I’ve never seen one finished, so today is the first day I’ve seen the house completed and the person moving in,” Sonderman said.
In addition to providing volunteers at the build site, the project’s lead sponsors and several other local parishes donated a collective $90,000 in financial support. The home is part of a series of 40 homes that Habitat for Humanity is constructing in Milwaukee’s northwest Harambee neighborhood; several other homes on the same block are in various stages of construction.
Donna Hutson was another member of the Family of Four Parishes who attended the house blessing, and she had an additional tie-in with the home’s namesake. “As soon as I saw (this event), I put it on my calendar,” said Hutson, who was a student of Sr. Thea Bowman more than 40 years ago.
Born in 1937 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Sr. Thea Bowman was a Black Catholic teacher, musician, liturgist and scholar who made major contributions to the Catholic Church’s ministry toward African Americans. Under consideration for sainthood, Sr. Bowman earned a bachelor’s degree from Viterbo University in La Crosse. She later taught at the university, which was where Hutson met her.
Sr. Bowman, said Hutson, was a “warm, beautiful” person — “quite a presence.”
To see Pittman take ownership of her new home would have made her overjoyed, said Hutson. “I think she would probably have been dancing and singing and playing the tambourine.”
Before the conclusion of the house blessing, Fr. Kitzke led the crowd in a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”
“Can we all make a commitment to each other, and to our world, to let the sun shine a little bit more in the middle of everything that’s going on in the world?” he said. “Things like this remind us of the power of God’s light working through us.”