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Tribute To Sister Mary Reilly

Sen. Jack Reed

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Mr. President, I rise today to honor Sister Mary Reilly, an important figure in social progress and education in Rhode Island for the past fifty years.

Since joining the Sisters of Mercy in 1948, Sister Mary Reilly's mission has always focused on helping individuals of modest means meet their basic needs and improve themselves through education. Whether in the heart of Providence, or in the classrooms of Honduras and Belize, or in her forthcoming work in New York City, these are the constants of Sister Mary Reilly's career ministry.

To be sure there have been many changes for Sister Mary Reilly. Indeed, she recently told the Providence Journal that her life has been filled with beginnings.

Born in Providence, she began her career with the Sisters of Mercy as a teacher there, first at St. Mary School and then at St. Mary Academy at Bay View. Later, she was able to fulfill one of her goals by becoming a missionary and teaching in Central America.

Returning to Rhode Island in 1970, Sister Mary Reilly began establishing the groundwork for institutions that have become a significant part of Rhode Island's landscape for social improvement. She was among the founders of McAuley House, a soup kitchen serving the homeless in Providence; the Good Friday Walk for Hunger and Homelessness; the COZ (Child Opportunity Zone), an innovative community effort to link schools with critical social service agencies and non-profit organizations; and the Annual Walk for Literacy. Sister Mary Reilly was also among those who began the Washington lobby, NETWORK.

However, the endeavor to which Sister Mary Reilly is most closely linked is Dorcas Place, which she helped found nearly 20 years ago with her colleague Deborah Thompson. Dorcas Place began as a literacy center for low-income young women. As Sister Mary Reilly and other leaders at Dorcas Place saw the need to address a greater array of issues in the community, the center grew to include women and men and took on a host of issues including literacy, employment and training, parenting, and advocacy. It has reached out to other organizations from Salve Regina University, with which Dorcas recently joined to create a certificate program for low-income and welfare dependent individuals, to Fleet Bank, to Rhode Island Legal Services, to the Rhode Island Department of Health, and many others. From a small corps of volunteers at first, Dorcas Place has grown to include 65 volunteer tutors and nearly 50 mentors. While all of this is the result of a team effort, Sister Mary Reilly certainly deserves the lion's share of the credit. She has indeed been the inspiration behind this wonderful organization.

Given Sister Mary Reilly's role in influencing the climate of social progress in Rhode Island, it was with great sadness that many Rhode Islanders learned of her decision to resign her post as Executive Director of Dorcas Place. She leaves to embark on a year's sabbatical in New York to work with other Sisters of Mercy who are following-up on the historic 1995 United Nations' Beijing Women's Conference.

For Sister Mary Reilly, it is another beginning, and we know that she will not be far from Rhode Island or from Dorcas Place. Her legacy of good will and service to others will foster the continuation the work important work at Dorcas Place, and I join all of her colleagues in wishing her well in her newest adventure. We all hope to see her in Rhode Island again before long.