Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 16, 2006
Sister honoured for her work with the homeless
Sr. Moran received the Order of Canada
Sr. Susan Moran
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
At a ceremony at Rideau Hall Oct. 6, Sister Susan Moran became a member of the Order of Canada for her work among the homeless and disenfranchised in the Toronto area.
"I'm here because of all the beautiful, suffering people who are now my sisters and brothers," she said in an interview following the ceremony. "It is through them that I've learned such love and compassion."
Moran, 67, joined Our Lady's Missionaries in 1963, drawn to the order's love for the poor and the sacrificial lives its sisters lived overseas in countries like Brazil, Nigeria and the Philippines. Entering the order was her way of following Jesus.
Her missionary work did not involve leaving Canada. Instead, she has ministered to people sleeping on grates, park benches and in telephone booths in Toronto, the city where she grew up.
She inspired the volunteer-driven Out of the Cold movement that has spread across the city. Now it's an interfaith movement that offers hot food, clothing and other services in several locations every day of the week. While Moran is motivated by her Catholic faith, she points out that a desire to serve the poor is also deeply embedded in the Muslim and Jewish faiths.
Out of the Cold started nearly 20 years ago when Moran was serving as a chaplain at St. Michael's College High School. Students were looking after a homeless man who was sleeping on the grass on school property. The students brought the man they called George clothing, blankets and food.
A missed moment
Moran recalls passing George one late afternoon as she headed back to the convent. They nodded hello and exchanged pleasantries and she wondered what his story was. She never got the chance to find out. A short time later someone beat him up and George died in hospital.
Anglican priest John Erb conducted George's funeral. His death rallied the students, focusing the interest they already had in helping the poor. Moran helped channel that interest into the first Out in the Cold program that she co-founded with Erb, now deceased, and a Basilian priest, Father John Murphy.
Erb offered the use of an old photography shop owned by St. Michael's and the Holy Angels Parish. Moran described it as "kind of dirty" and needing a lot of cleaning up. The students cleaned and then started bringing sweaters and jackets and "all sorts of beautiful things."
Simmering the first stew
"I remember making the first stew," Moran said and on Jan. 15, 1988, Out of the Cold opened for the first time.
"We always tried to make it a loving experience," Moran said, saying how the students would try to treat everyone as if they were members of their family. They would remember birthdays and at Christmas someone would dress up as Santa Claus.
Moran said the students also tried to remain aware of poverty in other countries, and would sometimes take part in a protest against apartheid in South Africa, or in a vigil to pray for the end of poverty worldwide.
The only training they had in running their local mission was through helping with the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd with their overflow, she said.
"The gifts they give to us of love, compassion and sharing are far greater than the gifts we give," she said. Their concern for each other and how they handle suffering as well as their desire to change the system has inspired her.
Solve the problem
Moran credits her missionary order with giving her the support and the example for her work. She was also instrumental in opening Mary's Home, an emergency shelter for abused women and their children now run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Short-term solutions are not enough for Moran, who dreams of eradicating the root causes of poverty and homelessness. She wants to see more permanent housing built. Her efforts helped inspire a Jewish congregation to set up a non-profit corporation to build Trellis Gardens. Most of its 55 units were filled from among Toronto's homeless.
Moran now lives in Lazarus House with Susan Sheard. Lazarus House offers a place for families to come for food or an overnight stay. Moran hopes the Out of the Cold movement will grow beyond Toronto and that more parishes will offer services for the poor, be it a hot meal, a place to sleep or a place to live.