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University awards 2011 Laetare Medal

Megan Doyle | Friday, May 20, 2011

Sr. Mary Scullion and Joan McConnon, co-founders of Project H.O.M.E, will jointly receive the Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, during the 2011 Commencement ceremony.

The Laetare Medal is the University’s highest honor and is awarded annually to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity,” a University press release said.

Project H.O.M.E (Housing, Opportunities for Employment, Medical Care and Education) is an organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Philadelphia. Scullion serves as executive director for Project H.O.M.E. and McConnon is the associate executive director and chief financial officer.

“In their work for the homeless in Philadelphia, Srs. Scullion and Joan McConnon have splendidly answered the Gospel summons to brotherly love,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said. “Serving the unsheltered Lord on the streets of their hometown, they have provided an example for others to serve likewise in cities worldwide.”

Scullion and McConnon, both Philadelphia natives, founded Project H.O.M.E. in 1989, according to the release. Project H.O.M.E. began providing emergency shelter for about 50 homeless men and grew to form a community for chronically homeless men and women. The project provides them with food, clothing, medical care, employment and a sense of dignity, the release stated.

Project H.O.M.E. now includes 480 units of housing and two businesses that provide employment for formerly homeless people. Scullion and McConnon developed the project into a national model for community development in low-income neighborhoods.

The two initiated renovation of inner city vacant lots, economic development, home-ownership initiatives for working poor families and education and employment programs for youth and adults.

According to the release, 95 percent of the homeless who participated in their project have not returned to the streets. Project H.O.M.E. is widely credited for reducing Philadelphia’s homeless population by half.

The daughter of Irish immigrants, Sr. Scullion entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1976 after graduating from St. Joseph’s University. She earned a master’s degree in social work from Temple University in 1986.

Joan McConnon graduated from Pennsylvania State University and earned a master’s degree in taxation from Drexel University in 1989. She returned to Philadelphia to work with the homeless after spending six years as an accountant.

The Laetare Medal is named for Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. The University traditionally announces its recipient on that day each year. The University began awarding the honor in 1883.

The last recipient of the Laetare Medal was poet Dana Gioia in 2010. Past recipients include operatic tenor John McCormack, United States President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker foundress Dorothy Day and Cardinal Joseph Bernadin.