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Neighbors Protest Nuns’ Plan to Reform Prostitutes

November 30, 1992

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ The sprawling Marywood Academy, home of 130 Dominican nuns, is usually a picture of serenity.

But tranquility has turned to turmoil. Many residents of the quiet neighborhood surrounding the 34-acre complex have begun fighting the nuns’ plan to shelter 10 prostitutes while helping the women turn their lives around.

The nuns are appealing a Grand Rapids Planning Commission ruling that a zoning variance is required to open the shelter because it represents a new use from current residential zoning.

The Dominicans say there’s no difference between housing nuns and housing former prostitutes.

″The position that a nun is the same as a prostitute is an extraordinary argument that stretches the law and logic and the facts to the extreme,″ said Joseph Doele, president of the Michigan-Oaks Neighborhood Association.

The program, Rose Haven, was started in March by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Ministry and now operates out of a rented house in another southeast- side neighborhood. But the house is to be sold and the nuns want to move the shelter to Marywood.

Petitions opposing the Marywood shelter have been signed by 500 residents, who say they fear property values will drop and crime will increase.

″The sadness here is that this has become such a point of misunderstanding and opposition within our neighborhood,″ said Prioress Carmelita Murphy, who oversees the local order of Dominicans.

Seven prostitutes have lived at the shelter since March and many others have been counseled. The sisters say the program has been successful, with no complaints from neighbors.

Participants may live in the shelter up to 18 months. Most undergo drug or alcohol rehabilitation and all must go to school, get job training or find a job.

″I see the pain of these women and their real desire to get out and want something better,″ said Sister Dolores Kalina, who helped develop the program, which relies on donations and private funds.

One woman came to Rose Haven three months ago after her release from prison. A former cocaine addict, she remembers her fear as court officials tried to line up a place for her to live at a low-cost motel in a drug- infested neighborhood.

″I cried when they said that because I knew I wouldn’t have a chance,″ said the woman, who spoke on condition her name not be used.

At Rose Haven, she is working part time and awaiting registration for computer classes at Grand Rapids Community College.

″I never thought I would live with a nun,″ she said. ″I’m not whole yet, but pieces of my life are coming together.″

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