DAVENPORT, Iowa — After 153 years, Davenport’s historic St. Mary’s Catholic Church will take on a new purpose, after the campus was purchased by the local nonprofit Humility Homes & Services.
The church celebrated its final mass earlier this October, before its merger with St. Anthony’s in Davenport, citing dwindling finances, parish numbers, and available priests.
“We were sad to see it close, but then also excited about what this means for us too,” said Ashley Velez, Executive Director of Humility Homes.
The nonprofit works to end homelessness in the Quad Cities by providing supportive services and creating affordable housing, which goes beyond shelters, to provide long-term solutions for low-income individuals.
As Humility Homes celebrates 30 years of work in the Quad Cities, they say transforming the church’s campus is the appropriate next step in continuing their work in the area. And, as the pandemic has increased the need for affordable housing, Velez says the purchase couldn’t have come at a better time.
“So the need for our services unfortunately keeps expanding and we’re a community organization that will keep changing to meet the needs of the community too,” she explained. “Last week we had about 133 individuals in our winter emergency shelter.” Typically the shelter’s maximum capacity is 70. They’ve been using a combination of housing and hotels to care for everyone, but still needed to expand, as all 42 of their affordable-rental units are also taken.
Humility Homes says they’ll use every building on the church’s campus to cater to low-income individuals and those in need.
“Our intention is for our property, which is the old church, to be a fresh start center,” said Velez. All the pews and religious artifacts will be taken out of the main floor of the church – with the church’s historic organ left in the balcony until it finds a new home – and it will be turned into a donation center for furniture and home goods. Participants of humility homes will be able to receive the items for free, and the public can purchase items, at a discounted price.
As for the rest of the buildings, the rectory will be transformed into affordable rentals for eight individuals; Humility Homes hopes to turn the parish center into a community gathering space; the 2.5 acre backyard will see a playground and community garden; and the nonprofits administration offices will be moved to the campus.
Humility Homes says not only will these changes allow them to meet more people, at a time when need is higher than ever, but it also lets them move closer to the heart of their mission. The nonprofit’s shelter is only a few blocks away, on fifth street, making the resources readily available to anyone staying there. It’s also, as Velez says, in an area of Davenport that they see a lot of need from, which allows them to work more closely with those who want it.
The transformed campus will be named the Jubilee Campus, in honor of the Sisters of Humility, the order of nuns at the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport. While the nonprofit is now a separate organization from the sisters, they were the founders of Humility Homes, and still sit on the board. And, Velez says it was one of their donors who helped make the purchase of St. Mary’s possible.
Beyond that, a jubilee celebration, in religious contexts, typically refers to someone’s 50th year of service.
“So it’s forecasting to our imprint here in the quad cities,” said Velez.
So, while St. Mary’s will no longer be hosting masses, the building will continue to stand as a beacon of hope for decades to come.
While Humility Homes isn’t accepting every donation right now, due to the pandemic, they are in need of a few specific items. They’re looking for furniture, hygiene items, home goods, blankets and towels. If you’d like to donate, you can reach out either by phone (563-326-1330) or on their website humilityhomes.org.