By Paul McMullen
Mary Slicher, executive Director of Project PLASE, Inc., which serves people lacking ample shelter and employment, visits with the Catholic Review.
CR: What, and where, are your Catholic roots?
Slicher: I attended St. Agnes School in Catonsville, then Mount de Sales Academy and Mount St. Agnes College. My second master’s degree is from Notre Dame of Maryland University.
I’m named after my great aunt on my dad’s side, who was a Daughter of Charity. I am a cradle Catholic, but learned not to take anything for granted from my mom, a convert. When asked, “Why are you a Catholic?” her reply included, “Why are you Catholic? Being born that way is simply not enough.”
CR: What role did your faith play in the founding of Project PLASE?
Slicher: Catholic faith teaches that we find God where there is suffering. There is a lot of needless, man-made suffering in the world, which we are meant to end. Catholicism teaches a preferential option for the poor. PLASE attempts to assure that those on the lowest economic strata are able to first have basic needs met through our housing and love, but also to be able to live using their God-given talents. PLASE works with men, women and families on a one-on-one basis; we also desire to eliminate societal barriers and injustices.
Remember, Proverbs says the poor need us for survival, but we need them for salvation.
CR: are citizens becoming more or less aware of their role in solving homelessness?
Slicher: From a structural level, we have more disparity in economic levels, which separate and desensitize us from each other. More have become very rich and more are very poor, making for a wider, deeper gap. Whatever the circumstance one is born into or finds themselves in, we need equal opportunity for all, including education and work. No one needs to have to choose between paying rent or medical or educational bills.
We do not yet have the will to change that in this country. People of good faith could make this happen, if it is the priority. That said, many ordinary citizens do understand those who struggle to make ends meet. It is often those who are only a step or two above the poverty level who truly have this compassion and understanding, and live generously. We need all the help we can get, by the way, to convert the former school at St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish (my home parish) into affordable housing.
CR: Describe a time when you most relied on your faith.
Slicher: There are times when health, personal and work struggles all happen at once, or when we seem far from being a compassionate, other-centered people, or when there is violence here or in the world. Human cruelty to other humans is beyond my comprehension.
I have to accept my smallness in the face of these things. My faith tells me that my feelings, however, are not God’s reality or power. And it tells me to just continue to be the drop in this ocean that I feel I was meant to be. When we face and accept what feels like our powerlessness, we allow the space needed for God to take over.
CR: Favorite saint?
Slicher: I’ve met many living saints, PLASE residents as well as others in El Salvador. Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day are among those who inspire me. They learned all they knew from those they served.