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MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary transforms lives one at a time

Posted at 11:49 AM, Jan 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 15:26:03-05

Sister MacCanon Brown is a powerful advocate for the poor. She's been called the Mother Teresa of Milwaukee. She observes, "We have a society that we create ostracism, we stigmatize people for being homeless. Even though homelessness can happen to anyone."

Twice a week, about 150 people get in line here at the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary. They get enough food for a week.

"It's a food desert, a serious food desert," warns Brown.

Sister MacCanon admits she did not want her agency named after her.

"I don't ever want to be perceived as doing this for self-glorification. I don't know. But I understand why they chose to do that. I have these conversations with God about that. We have a fun way of saying, it's not the me but we."

Sister MacCanon has been a champion of the underprivileged. for almost three decades. She's seen lives changed dramatically.

"There's something that will stop people from giving up and say I want to try.' I just lose my breath. Sometimes some of those moments are where I can't breathe for a good reason."

Born to protestant ministers in Iowa, her parents told her the value of every human being.

"My sisters and I witnessed our parents treating everyone the same with the same dignity and love. Whether it was a senator, a prostitute, a blue-collar worker, whoever it was, who entered our door, or in the church. They were all given love and dignity and treated equally."

Though raised a protestant, Brown converted to Catholicism. In 2014 Sister MacCanon her vows after the Sisters for Christian community invited her to become a nun. Recently the sisters for Notre Dame chose her to become an associate.

"It was a huge surprise. God has a sense of humor. They approached me, you know, I just said I think you're barking up the wrong tree. But they said no, you fit our profile. So, it's an honor though...Oh my gracious."

Becoming a nun was natural. Her devotion to uplifting people like Raymond Woods is legendary.

"I was homeless a lot longer than I expected. But she had helped me out," shares Woods.

Woods has been volunteering for system mechanic for 16 years.

One night while homeless, he spent the night in a garbage can and was almost thrown away literally.

He recalls, "What stopped me sleeping out here on the streets was this last time when I was sleeping in a garbage can. I guess the truck came and didn't know I was in the garbage can and start lifting it up. I knew I was ready to get disposed of. I jumped up on the garbage can was waving my hands to the man! He started lowering me back down. And he told me just don't ever do that again. And I said you ain't gotta worry about that no more and I was felt blessed then that was the end and of that of me being homeless! That woke me up completely. Now I will not sleep in another garbage can, and I feel for other homeless people out here today."

Woods is inspired by Sister MacCannon's determination to help the less fortunate. Board member Karen Dubis echoes the same sentiment.

"One of the things that we say your sanctuary is to be become and belong. And so I say back to my heart because it can speak to everyone you know, but when I come here, I always feel like I belong. And then I can always be more than I am today."

Dubis, a retired Lieutenant from the Milwaukee Police Department, praises MacCanon's drive to improve lives.

"Sister MacCanon is a great leader. She leads with compassion. She leads with respect and love, and she's very driven. And with all of that, she comes to bring over 600 volunteers from over 60 organizations to the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary. People come when Sister calls because they believe in our mission for the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary. And they believe in Sister. "

Sister MacCanon laments the racial disparity she's witnessed.

"All of this where there's this huge divide in Milwaukee. The majority of homeless people and people living in poverty being African American. It's time for us to have uncomfortable conversations. It's time for that great divide to heal no matter what we do. The employment issues here are also shocking. That's a loss of human potential that is colossal. We really have a lot of intention around helping to turn that around, of helping people discover their ability to thrive, rather than live in this utter scarcity."

After serving thousands of Milwaukee poor through decades of work, Sister MacCanon notes she has not encountered violent situations.

"We have never had one violent situation. Part of the reason is something larger than ourselves."

Many have learned many lessons from MacCanon.

"We are more alike than we are different. At any given time we could have changed places," says Dubis.

Woods has learned a lot from Sister MacCanon. He exclaims, "Just love one another. Sister, she never has no hate in her heart. She has a whole lot of love. And that's the biggest thing I can say."

Through the unconditional love of people like Sister MacCanon Brown, our world becomes shinier and brighter. We see that we can unite when guided by the principle that no man is better than the next.

MacCanon reflects, "Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have a military budget, and the world was at peace? We could spend all those trillions of dollars on making sure everyone had homes and health care. And wouldn't it be something if one day the flag of truce would be something that's held up all over the world, and we would have no more homelessness?"

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