For 100 years, the Carmelite Home for Boys in Wauwatosa functioned as an orphanage and then a residential treatment facility for juvenile offenders from Milwaukee and other nearby communities.
But in 2019, the sisters changed course.
They’re now nearing the one-year mark of functioning as a home for women with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“We thought, we nuns, we are the simplest people in the world,” said Sister Mary Brigid. “But these ladies teach us a lot. They teach us humility and simplicity. Sometimes we can make things in life so complicated, but their lives are just so simple.”
In recent years, the sisters said several problems with some of the juveniles the home served led them to look for a new mission.
They demolished the old home for boys and built a $4 million complex with 15 living units for women. The Carmelite Ministry of St. Teresa, 1215 Dewey Ave., Wawautosa, then began welcoming the women in October 2019.
‘A lot of joy’
Becca Fazio moved into The Carmelite Ministry of St. Teresa nine months ago. She said she loves talking and hanging out with her friends.
The women participate in a variety of activities throughout the day, including science class, music time, sewing class and a Zumba class.
Becca Fazio, 25, said her favorite activity of the day is sewing class. She also likes playing Jenga and talking with her friends.
“I also like that I get to hang out with the sisters and hang out with my friends here,” Fazio said.
Fazio moved into the facility in January from Cedarburg. Her parents visit frequently. But Fazio said she loves the independence of living alone.
Another of her favorite activities is cleaning her room and doing her own laundry.
“It’s pretty good being independent because it gets me to actually be able to do stuff,” she said.
To make it all happen, the sisters share roles and wear many different hats.
Sister Mary Brigid handles the classes and activities. She also helps with the maintenance of the facility and sleeps in the same building as the women.
Sister Miriam Teresa is in charge of the faith component of the ministry, as well as fitness classes and housekeeping.
Sister Rose Therese is the cook, and also helps with finances and fundraising.
Sister Mary Brigid teaches a class to the five women who live in the home.
Sister Rose Therese said the day is structured for the women, but they can also choose what to do or not do. Every day is different. The sisters said they are still learning from the women on a daily basis.
One of the main lessons they’re learning: Don’t take life too seriously.
“It made me realize those things that I take for granted, and I made things complicated, but it made me realize that life can be simple,” said Sister Rose Therese.
The women bring her “a lot of joy,” she added.
“Sometimes we make life so complicated, but they inspire us,” she said.
Sister Mary Brigid added that the goal of the home is to teach the women real-life skills.
The sisters said they focus on skills for their work life, social life, creative expression and spiritual growth.
“Nobody is telling them what to do, because here, they actually are free, but if they need something or if there’s a skill that needs to be worked on, we help them,” said Sister Mary Brigid.
“Everyone is so nice and kind, and they want to get to know you better and talk with you, and once they get to know you better, and you get to know them better, they’re awesome and good to be around,” she said.
Currently, 10 of the 15 units are still open. Three women are waiting to move in because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We didn’t expect COVID … nobody did,” Sister Rose Therese said.
In the spring, however, they’re planning to open a fitness center for both men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There will be a fee for use of the center, but it’ll be open to the public.
The sisters are also still seeking donations for costs related to the new building.
Learn more about how to donate at bit.ly/carmelitesisterstosa
Evan Casey can be reached at 414-403-4391 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ecaseymedia.