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Co-founder of Out of the Cold, Tribute: Sister Susan Moran

Susan Moran was a tireless advocate for some of Toronto’s most vulnerable residents. 

(Supplied Photo)

SISTER SUSAN MORAN, the Toronto Roman Catholic nun who co-founded the Out of the Cold shelters for homeless people, died of a heart attack in Toronto on Dec. 18th. She was 78.

The Out of the Cold emergency shelters began in just a few Toronto church basements in 1987. They’re now offered at 16 locations across the city. Churches and synagogues are transformed into temporary, volunteer-run shelters that offer dinner, a place to sleep and breakfast the next morning once a week. Each site co-ordinates with others across the city to make sure there’s continuous coverage for the homeless throughout the winter months.

Moran was known as a tireless advocate for some of Toronto’s most vulnerable residents. She was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2006.

“She was always out there, she was always at the Out of the Cold programs, she was always talking to people on the sidewalk, and she knew everybody by name,” said Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and visiting professor at Ryerson University who worked with Moran.

“She had a big, big smile. She was a lovely, lovely, sweet, kind woman,” Crowe said. “But very feisty.

“Sister Susan’s concern for the poor and homeless was motivated by strong convictions about God’s universal love for all people. She treated everyone the same,” said Crowe. “She believed that people should be nurtured, should be sheltered, should be loved.”

Moran was a member of Our Lady’s Missionaries, whose website describes her motivation as “becoming one with God’s poor and homeless.”

Even so, Moran was saddened that the shelter programs were so in-demand. Her long-term goal was for more affordable housing.

“I knew my mission, my calling was here with the homeless,” Moran told the Toronto Star in 2007. “We have to take better care of our vulnerable. There has to be better affordable housing.”

While many of her colleagues travelled around the world for missionary work, a fear of flying kept Sister Susan in Canada. In 1987 she joined St Michael’s College School as a special education consultant and helped with the chaplaincy program. That year George, a homeless man Moran and the students took food and clothing to, was beaten to death. His death prompted Moran, along with co-founders Basilian priest Rev. John Murphy and Anglican priest Rev. John Erb, and the students, to create a soup kitchen in an old storefront, on St. Clair Ave. West.

Three decades later, the Out of the Cold program provides shelter for thousands of people across the province. In 2003, Dixon Hall Community Services, a local non-profit group, took over the administration of the program.

Last year, 16 Toronto organizations supported by Dixon Hall – which doesn’t track all Toronto programs – provided warmth, safety and food to more than 1,240 people. There are also programs in York Region, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Woodstock and Barrie, to name a few, as well as outside Ontario and in the U.S.

“Where her influence has been is to show people they can do something to really make a difference in the lives of people who call the streets their home,” said Father Santo Arrigo, priest at St. Patrick’s Church on McCaul St., which has the longest running overnight program.

Sister Frances Brady, congregational leader at Our Lady’s, met Moran when she joined the abbey and described her as “full of life and enthusiasm,” and having a gift for “talking and being with other people.”

The onset of the cold weather, Brady said, was always of great concern to Moran and when she wasn’t out on the street, she was infamous for marshalling support through the phone.

“She really kept in touch with so many people around the city,” Brady said.

Moran annually campaigned to have the Toronto Armouries opened as emergency shelters. In 2002, she co-founded Seeds of Hope, a non-profit that runs five Toronto facilities, including a transitional home for women and one for men.

Dennis Bruce met Moran when he and his wife started an Out of the Cold program at the Blythwood Road Baptist Church in 1995. On one Saturday in December, the Blythwood program fed 130 people supper. Of those, 74 spent the night and stayed for breakfast.

“Her vision to start this has literally saved hundreds of lives on our streets. I will say that unequivocally,” he said. Bruce also spoke of the ever-growing list of names of the people who have died because of homelessness, posted at the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity on Trinity Square.

“I recognize some of those names,” Bruce said. “I think that board would be at least twice the size if it wasn’t for Sister Susan.”    TAP

–Sources: The CBC, Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail.

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