Sr. Moran invested into the Order of Canada

  • October 13, 2006

OTTAWA - At a ceremony at Rideau Hall Oct. 6, Sr. 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,” Moran 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 into the order was Moran's way of following Jesus.

Her missionary work did not involve leaving Canada. Instead, she has ministered to people sleeping on grates, on park benches and in telephone booths in Toronto, the city where she grew up. She has 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, shelter 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 deeply embedded in the Muslim and Jewish faith as well.

Out of the Cold started in 1988 when Moran was serving as a chaplain at St. Michael's College High School. Students there were looking after a homeless man who was sleeping on the grass on school property. With Moran's encouragement, the students were bringing the man they called "George" clothing, blankets and food. Moran recalls passing George one late afternoon as she headed back to the convent. They nodded hello and exchanged some pleasantries and she wondered what his story was. She never got a chance to find out. A short time later, after someone beat him up, George died in hospital.

Anglican priest John Erb conducted George's funeral in the park across the street from the school. His death rallied the students, focusing the interest they already had in helping the poor. Moran helped channel that interest into the first Out of the Cold program she co-founded with Erb, who is now deceased, and Basilian 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 it needed a lot of cleaning up. The students took on that job. Then they started to bring in sweaters and jackets and "all sorts of beautiful things."

"I remember making the first stew," Moran said. On Jan. 15, 1988, Out of the Cold opened for the first time. It took all week to prepare for the one day it was open.

Soon, the former studio became too small. Holy Rosary parish offered the use of a hall. Anywhere from 70 to 150 people were showing up for lunch.

"We always tried to make it a loving experience," Moran said, noting 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.

"The gifts they give to us of love, compassion and sharing are far greater than the gifts we give," Moran said.

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 with the help of the Toronto archdiocese. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul now runs the short-term shelter.

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.

"It's not a compliment that Out of the Cold is growing so much," she said. "There has to be homes for these people. There has to be an economy that is sensitive to the poor and jobs available."

Society needs to be more sensitive to the needs of the mentally ill, the mentally challenged, teenagers and the elderly, she said. She also recognized some people will still choose to live on the grates rather than in an apartment. Those people still need care.  She has gone out in the night to visit with them, bring them food and chat with them to find out how they are doing.

Moran now lives in Lazarus House. 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, whether a hot meal, a place to sleep or a place to live.

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