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St. Margaret’s House and the Importance of Matriarchal Spaces

St. Margaret’s House and the Importance of Matriarchal Spaces
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Pat, Kathy, Tamara, Mary Fran and me at the 25th Anniversary Gala

My first visit to St. Margaret’s House was hella tearful. I was a hot mess. I felt absolutely pathetic. It was winter already, snowy, hellishly cold and dreary outside. Walking downtown under the weight of the permacloud, I tried and failed to remain upright, slipped on a patch of ice into some dirty road slushed snow and started to cry. It wasn’t even noon yet. A woman walking in the opposite direction had seen me fall and asked if I was okay and pressed some money into my hand. I was so fucking ashamed. Not only did I look like a clumsy pitiful mess, I guess I also looked really homeless. Which I mean, wasn’t completely untrue. 

A little backstory. In 2009, I was readmitted to Notre Dame after being academically dismissed the year before. Things were going… okay. Except I was still very, very depressed. I felt so out of place. Like a fraud. Like I was just waiting for everyone to figure out that I was going to fail. I was full of anxiety. I didn’t sleep well and eventually I didn’t sleep at all. I went to some classes when I could stand it. Mostly that semester is a hazy blob. I don’t remember much of it except the times that I spent with my best friend Tyler. I think it was the week after spring break that I tried to kill myself by taking 9000 milligrams of expired Lithium. Sensing something was off with me, Tyler had my ARs check on me that night. After my hospitalization, I returned to campus and was promptly advised to withdraw and take some time off. So I moved back into the Catholic Worker and struggled to feel alive or anything but deep abiding failure.

So, back to that winter. I was heading to St. Margaret’s House after being invited by Shanica, a friend of mine who thought that it would be a helpful place for me to spend time. I showed up at their door, wet and pitiful. I really wish I could comfort my 23 year old self in that moment. I would clasp their face between my hands and say, “You are powerful. You are.”

The first scarf I made for myself, which quotes the poem "Desiderata"

The first scarf I made for myself, which quotes the poem “Desiderata”

St. Margaret’s House began in 1990 as a safe place for women and children in South Bend. Since opening its doors it has gone on to provide resources and support for hundreds of women and children in the community. And I’m talking about beyond those in dire need of their services to the countless women who volunteer and work there day in and day out. I feel like every woman who walks with the doors there soon embraces the unofficial motto, I am helped and I can help.  The women there nourish each other, literally and figuratively. From the volunteers who come daily to cook and serve lunch, to the art programming that Mary Fran does, to the donors who have supported the organization for years and years to the women and children who fill the building with their energy and presence. Every woman brings her story, struggles, strengths to the table knowingly and unknowingly. It was the first organization of its kind that I had been to that didn’t make me feel less than or ashamed because I needed help. Even at the Catholic Worker I always felt more like a problem that people had to deal with than a person. At St. Margaret’s House I wasn’t looked at as a pet project. I was Sade. And everything that being Sade encompassed was acknowledged, accepted, celebrated and cherished.

Photo by Smruti Damania & Armand Poblete

Photo by Smruti Damania & Armand Poblete

It’s also one of the few places that I can go and not have to worry about my safety. There are times that the mere presence of men in a space makes me bristle. Men are not allowed in St. Margaret’s House (male children are, up to a certain age). Except for the occasional donation delivery, maintenance worker, volunteer or student group taking a tour, you will never see just a dude wandering around St. Margaret’s House unattended. And I think it is that one fact that made it so easy for me, a stranger to all of these other women, to feel welcomed at St. Margaret’s House. The knowledge that my safety, my well being and empowerment was a concern that trumped the unfettered inclusion of men was a game changer for me then. It is the first true matriarchal space I have ever be a part of and it has been an integral piece in the puzzle of my growth both as a person and as an artist.

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Me and Mary Fran at the 25th Anniversary Gala (both wearing silk that we painted ourselves)

Not long after I began frequenting St. Margaret’s House I was invited by Mary Fran Brandenberger to be a member of Silk Creations. Mary Fran is the Art Program Coordinator. She runs the open art studio on Mondays and facilitates Silk Creations. But that’s not even half of all the incredible things she does. She has her own private practice as a therapist, she’s hella involved in the community, she’s mother to two very smart and talented young women, she’s an incredible artist, a full on Pinterest addict and she’s been my mentor and one of my greatest supporters for the past five and a half years.

Detail of an early scarf.

Detail of an early scarf.

I remember starting Silk Creations as an apprentice. I was the youngest woman in the group. I was very timid (if you can imagine that) and terrified of making a mistake. But the current artists welcomed me and taught me everything they knew and the first scarf I made sold before I even got to see it fully finished. I think of the scarves I made in my first year silk painting and sometimes I cringe a little. Not because they were ugly scarves but because it’s so obvious to me in retrospect that I was really trying to find my voice. Being a master artist in Silk Creations is something that I take a lot of pride in. I get paid to do something that I absolutely love to do. Being paid for the things I create as an artist isn’t something that I ever thought would happen and it’s revolutionary. It reinforces for me the knowledge that creativity is valuable. Art and poetry are valuable. And it’s sort of bullshit, especially for women and POC, to accept not being paid for creative labor as the standard.

Photo by Smruti Damania & Armand Poblete

Photo by Smruti Damania & Armand Poblete

When I was struggling midway through my senior year at Notre Dame, Mary Fran and I went for a walk around the labyrinth at St. Mary’s College with her dog Levi. She asked me to think about what my perfect year would look like, if I could create the most ideal academic experience what would that entail, what would I have to do to make that possible. I thought for a while and then went to work on some things. And I had the best semester in the history of all my semesters. I worked with professors I admired. I worked on projects that developed my voice as an artist. I designed three chapbooks, wrote a great deal of poetry, fell in love with art history, built an entire installation and at the end of the year won the Riley Prize in Studio Art (that wasn’t part of my original imaginings but it felt really good). I finished strong. Just like everyone (except me) knew I could. But it was that initial push… Mary Fran believing that I could make things happen, I could engineer my own happiness in that moment, that my dreams didn’t have to be just dreams… it was really important to me and has changed so much of how I see myself.

scarf with line from Dream Machine 17

scarf with line from Dream Machine 17

At St. Margaret’s House I learned how to dream and then I learned how to dream bigger. I believe in my own power to create the life that I want to have for myself so much more than I did a decade ago. Mary Fran and the women at St. Margaret’s House have taught me so many important lessons, planted so many seeds of self love, empowerment, understanding, feminism and joy that I feel like I could talk about who they are and what they have done for days and still not exhaust the significance that they have in my life and the life of many women in South Bend.


This week’s Lonely Britchlist

  • Last week I had the rare pleasure of seeing my dear friend Brad. He’s been doing doctoral research in England for the past few years. He was one of the first real friends that I made at Notre Dame and has been with me through a lot. It was so great to catch up with him.
  • Yesterday I had dinner with MattCap. It was so fantastic, we improvised a curry noodle dish which was the perfect amount of spicy. And then we had froyo and smoked cigarettes on the porch.
  • Claudia Rankine.
  • Thahabu Gordon wrote this incredible piece for Rookie.
  • Misty Copeland.
  • After reading at Barnes and Noble on Saturday, Nichole and I were chilling at Villa Rot and she showed me this adorable video of Staceyann Chin teaching her daughter about consent.
  • Nigeria recently banned FGM, passing the VAPP Bill into law.
  • One of my fat gurl friends alerted me to the existence of Jibri and I straight up flooded my basement. One day all the gorgeous clothes will be mine.
  • Here is Silk Creations’s Etsy page.

Tata for now my lonely britches. Mary Fran this is for you.

 

Sade Murphy

Sade Murphy

Sade Murphy was born and raised in Houston, TX. She is the author of "Dream Machine," a poetry collection.
Sade Murphy

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About The Author

Sade Murphy

Sade Murphy was born and raised in Houston, TX. She is the author of "Dream Machine," a poetry collection.

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