Family has Pope Francis to thank for Habitat for Humanity home

Staff, volunteers, supporters and the Meadows family raise the first two walls of the Pope Francis House on Wednesday in Asheville, N.C. (Courtesy Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity)

Asheville, N.C. — As a Baptist raised in the South, Lashawn Meadows has never been much of a pope follower. But she knows enough about Francis to look forward to November, when she and her three children will be moving into a home built in his honor.

The Pope Francis House, an Asheville, N.C., Habitat for Humanity home, is raising its walls with seed money provided by an anonymous donor who requested the chapter build the house in honor of the pontiff. It is believed to be the only Habitat home in the nation named for Francis.

"I know he's a great leader; he's not into the royalty," Meadows said. "I know he's different than the other popes. To me, he's a get-his-hands-dirty type. He treats everybody equally, especially the poor." 

As a single mother of three school-age children, Meadows, 38, said she would appreciate a little less adventure. She would like to have fewer rats and mice in her life; no repeats of the daytime shootout in front of her apartment that resulted in a bullet hole in her car or the break-in in which her TV and other items were stolen; and no more police helicopters circling her neighborhood with spotlights.

Meadows and a group of volunteers reached a milestone Wednesday when -- on the count of three -- about 30 people raised the first two walls of the Pope Francis House to cheers from a crowd that included many Catholics from area parishes who have joined in as volunteers on the project. Built completely with sweat equity, including 250 hours from Meadows' family, the house in Asheville's Shiloh community will be a 1,378-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bath home with no down payment and an interest-free 30-year mortgage that will be between $475 and $575 per month, less than Meadows' current rental payment.

A dispatcher for Asheville's public transit system, Meadows said collecting child support "is like pulling teeth. I'm doing it [raising her kids] by myself." Her shift begins at 5 a.m. and runs until 2 p.m. Her eldest daughter, Rayvan, 16, helps get her sister, Robin, 13, and brother, Timothy, 10, out to school in the morning. Rayvan also works on the Habitat job sites with her mother. (They can get in their 250 sweat-equity hours by working at any Habitat site.)

Ann Hubbard, a Catholic who works on the development staff of the Asheville Area Habitat group, said naming the house in Francis' honor is appropriate. "This pope has generated a new energy to me for social justice and the corporal works of mercy," she said. "He just speaks more to that."

A mother of two adult sons, Hubbard, who belongs to Asheville's St. Eugene Parish, was at the wall-raising for Meadows' home.

"You could see it in the people's faces working on the house. You just feel like you're doing the right thing," Hubbard said. "It was quite inspiring; wall-raisings always are."

Catholic Kerney McNeil, 70, is a retired building contractor who has worked as a core volunteer on about 50 Habitat homes in Asheville. He said the Pope Francis House is the first Habitat home in Asheville that is designated as a Catholic project. Previously, Catholics have joined other churches in ecumenical Habitat building efforts, he said.

A member of Asheville's Basilica of St. Lawrence parish, McNeil said it's "a wonderful thing" to name a Habitat home in honor of Francis. McNeil said in the past, he was rarely asked about the pope from his Protestant friends. That's all changed with Francis. "John Paul II was a great guy, well-liked, but I didn't have anybody asking me about him."

Now, McNeil said people who know he's Catholic come up to him and say, "We really like your pope."

This will be Meadows' second Habitat home. In 1992, her mother, Cynthia Carter, was approved to buy a Habitat home in Asheville for Meadows, then a teenager, and Carter's five other children.

"This is going to be my home," Meadows said. "I will not have to do all the moving I have done. It will be a decent home to raise these kids."

While the exact amount of the donation was not released, $55,000 is required to sponsor a Habitat House in Asheville. The donor said the purpose of the Pope Francis House is: 

• To honor Francis for his commitment to social justice and reinvigorating the Catholic church;

• To provide a unifying, celebratory opportunity for both Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers to work together towards a common goal (as Francis says, "Work confers dignity."); and

• To further Habitat's mission of building and preserving homes.

"It is our hope, and that of the donor, that this project will serve as a model for other Habitat affiliates to partner with local Catholic churches and build in honor of Pope Francis," said Lew Kraus, executive director of the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.

Meadows, who had to meet Habitat's qualifying standards to be considered for the home, is one of the more than 250 Asheville residents to be approved for Habitat homes since 1983. Only about 5 percent of applicants are approved.

"I'm so excited," Meadows said. "If I could move in tomorrow, I would."

[Patrick O'Neill, a freelance writer from Garner, N.C., is a longtime contributor to NCR.]

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here