The Lord isn’t the only one who works in mysterious ways. So do rock stars.
One day a couple of years ago, Sister Mary Scullion — earthy yet spiritual co-founder of Philly’s celebrated Project H.O.M.E., and herself something of a rock star in social services circles — was concluding a public meeting about homelessness in North Philly when she was approached by a man who introduced himself as “O.B.” He was impressed with what he heard about Project H.O.M.E., which strives to help the poor and homeless become independent, and he wondered if Sister Mary might be able to tell him more. Sister Mary is not the type to say no — either to people in need or to people who might be able to help people in need — and so a few days later she took this … O.B. … on a tour of what her outfit has been up to for the past 20 years — its community center and café (staffed by the homeless) on Fairmount Avenue, its street outreach projects, its recently completed Honickman Learning Center. When they finished, O.B. laid his cards on the table.
“Sister,” he said, “I actually represent Jon Bon Jovi, and … ”
Now, Sister Mary is a woman of great faith, but she is no rube. As she puts it, “We get all types up here.” And so her reaction was not what you might imagine from a nun.
“Yeah, right,” she muttered.
No, O.B. insisted, he really was with Bon Jovi, and a few days later he proved it by bringing JBJ himself up to North Philly for a little of the Sister Mary treatment. The rocker — who along with local developer Craig Spencer had recently become owner of the Philadelphia Soul, the Arena Football League team — was impressed by what he saw at Project H.O.M.E., and he had a simple question for the nun: How can we help?
Thus was born one of the more unlikely philanthropic partnerships in recent memory, a pairing so unexpected that it sounds like a pitch for a bad sitcom — über-rich entertainer teams up with vow-of-poverty-taking penguin. (Working title? Livin’ on a Prayer, of course.) But in North Philly, you’ll see what the Philadelphia Soul Foundation and Sister Mary hath wrought: The Bon Jovi Homes, 15 rehabbed houses, many now filled with formerly homeless women.
“It was almost like … well, nobody knew how to react,” Sister Mary says of that first day she took Bon Jovi around the neighborhood. “It was almost like it was too good to be true.”