The “Mother Theresa of Philly” is not your typical Catholic nun.  In addition to transforming the streets of Philadelphia even more profoundly than a Bruce Springsteen song, Bon Jovi says that she also “swears and spits” in the course of her work helping the homeless beat the streets.  She insists that she does not spit.

Sister Mary Scullion entered the convent in 1972 when she was 19.  Since then she has worked tirelessly with the homeless, mentally ill, and other at-risk populations around the Philadelphia area to help move people off of the streets.  Although she is not alone in her efforts, her success has been amazing.  By 2000, she and those involved with Project H.O.M.E. (Housing, Opportunities for Employment, Medical Care, Education) had reduced the homeless population in Philly to less than 200 people.  Perhaps most amazing of all is that a full 95% of those who she has helped have remained off the streets.  For anyone who knows anything about the cycles that lead to homelessness, this number is truly astounding. Now people like Bill Clinton and mayors around the world are taking notes to learn how Sister Mary thinks.

In recognition for her work she has been awarded honorary doctorates at universities, fellowships from international foundations, the highest awards in Philadelphia, and recently was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in the world.  She seems to shrug it all off, insisting that this recognition belongs to everyone involved with her work.

Much like Mother Theresa, Sister Mary sees those she helps as whole people, not just needy adicts, helping those who often times do not want help while respecting their individual dignity.  She reaches people by building their self-esteem, and then enables them by helping them with more than just housing but also education and medical support.  She aims to help people plan a viable future with goals and then supports them along the way.  Although many social work systems in urban environments preach these things, I think it is by really valuing and building up the identities of the people she serves that Sister Mary is so successful.  Somewhere deep inside everyone wants to be successful, but some need more help believing in themselves, despite their failures, to take the hard path toward long-term recovery.