Women find God’s goodness at Emmaus House
March 6, 2012
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
SAGINAW — “Thank you for loving me with the love of Christ, for accepting me into your family, something I’ve never had.”
So reads a note Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Marietta Fritz recently received from a woman who was being released from prison and welcomed to Emmaus House, a series of 14 homes she runs in Saginaw, Mich., for women who literally have nowhere else to go as they leave jail or rehab.
“We meet them at the bottom,” explained Sister Marietta, who grew up in Wyoming, Ohio, and attended St. James of the Valley School and Mount Notre Dame High School. “They come to us after serving prison sentences or completing rehab. The women have lost everything. They arrive with the clothes on their backs. We take them in for as long as it takes to create a stable new life.”
Her involvement with Emmaus house spans nearly 25 years, and she brings to it the deep faith and belief in God’s goodness that also inspired her call to join the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Sister Marietta entered the community in 1960, and professed her final in 1968. She initially served in educational ministry, including teaching math and science at Chaminade Julienne High School in Dayton. While there, she also began volunteering at a nearby jail and was drawn toward the ministry full time.
Wth the support of her community, Sister Marietta became a chaplain at the Saginaw County Jail. As she worked with the inmates, she became aware of the need that existed once the women were released from prison. “They were put back out on the streets with no place to go,” she said. “That’s what motivated the start of Emmaus House — to provide a place where women can really change their lives.”
In the years since it was established, more than 900 guests have had that opportunity. The average stay is seven to eight months. The longest stay has been six years. Emmaus House has the capacity to provide 50 women with a home-like, Christian atmosphere.
Guests are required to attend a 12-step program, hold a job, go to school or contribute eight hours of work in one of the community’s homes. Also required is participation in a local faith community. “There’s a lot of opportunity if the women are willing,” Sister Marietta said. “It all depends on what they’re aiming for, and that depends on their willingness to stay off drugs.”
It can be a difficult transition for the women, she acknowledged. “Some of them are pretty beaten down. They’ve been out of society for eight or more years. They’re emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. All of our women have had pretty horrible lives. Most have come out of drug addicted families, are victims of sexual abuse and have had limited educational opportunities.”
There are many successes, Sister Marietta noted, including one former guest who overcame her addiction and went on to attend Saginaw Valley University. She’s now a social worker at a treatment center and volunteer at Emmaus House.
In Emmaus News, the ministry’s newsletter, another former guest wrote, “I came to Emmaus House Sept. 2, 2009, after 10 years on drugs and 10 years in prison. With the help of God, Sister Marietta and her staff, I am now clean. I have my own apartment, car and I attend college. My point: without Christ, you can do nothing. With Christ, all things are possible.”
It’s success stories such as these that make her ministry so rewarding, Sister Marietta said. “For me, it’s seeing the women create new lives for themselves, watching them come to life. It’s exciting to see them so willing to try. I’m amazed by their resilience. It’s a credit to the spirit within that doesn’t die.”
There are times the women don’t succeed on their first try, or even their second or third, she admitted, with the temptations of the streets winning out. But, said Sister Marietta, “we always take them back, over and over again if they need it. After all, Jesus always takes us back. There’s no limit to the goodness of God. It’s not conditional. The whole idea behind Emmaus House is to make God’s goodness known to people who wouldn’t know it otherwise. That’s my goal.”
For more information, visit http:// www.emmaushouse-saginaw.com.