Donor challenges diocese, Habitat to build Pope Francis House

JACKSON – For more than 30 years, Catholics across the Diocese of Jackson have supported Habitat for Humanity through Catholic Build projects. This year, an extra house honoring Pope Francis, is being added to the project list. An anonymous donor has offered half of the funds needed for a Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capitol Area house for a low-income family needing a safe, decent place to live if the community can raise $40,000 in matching funds.
The donor has provided grants to build several other Pope Francis houses, including ones in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Huntersville, North Carolina. The anonymous donor said the purpose is to honor Pope 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 towards a common goal; and to further Habitat’s mission of building and preserving homes.
“The challenge from an anonymous donor is a special opportunity for both the Catholic and non-Catholic communities to build a home for a local family in need, while honoring Pope Francis’ teachings that, ‘The love of the poor is at the heart of the Gospel,’” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz. Bishop Kopacz spoke with several media outlets in support of the project and all the work Habitat does to help rebuild communities. “He is encouraging us to improve people’s lives by breaking the cycle of poverty and building our community, which is certainly the focus of Habitat for Humanity.”
“When they told me, I was just speechless,” said Shavers Houston, who will receive the Pope Francis House. “It is an exciting time for me, because it’s going to be the first time I’m going out on my own to buy a house,” he said. Houston has four children ranging in age from 13 to six. Teams of volunteers will build the family a five bedroom, two bath home on Greenview Drive, next to Jackson St. Therese Church. This is not the first time the Catholic community has been a part of a Greenview project. Last year, volunteers from a number of churches in the area including St. Therese, participated in a Habitat sponsored cleanup day on the block. Habitat hopes to revitalize the whole block in time.
“When I told them they didn’t believe me!” He said of his children. “I had to tell them, ‘I’m telling the truth.’ They are very excited,” said Houston. The kids will have to change schools and make some other adjustments, but Houston, who grew up in the neighborhood where the house is being built, said they love school and learning so he is not concerned. Houston works as a maintenance man at a Jackson apartment complex, a job he loves.
Getting to this point was a long road for the family. Houston heard a radio advertisement about Habitat 10 years ago. “All I did was give it a shot and call.” Before he could qualify he had to take classes on home ownership, perform community service at Stewpot and contribute ‘sweat equity’ by working on other Habitat homes. “I’m just so honored to know this home is going to be historic. People are going to know I live in a house dedicated to Pope Francis – that’s amazing,” said Houston, who is not Catholic, but is grateful for the support from the Catholic community.
“Anytime a donor is able to give a sponsorship of a Habitat house in honor of someone, that makes the build all the more special,” said Cindy Griffin, executive director of HFHMCA. “Giving our community the opportunity to work together ecumenically to honor Pope Francis is a very special build,” Griffin said. “We encourage the community to be a part of this exciting partnership by donating today so we can meet the match and not lose this opportunity to honor the Pope and help a family in need,” added Griffin.
“I just want to thank all the people who are donating toward the build. I want to than the anonymous donor. It is a blessing to know that people are giving their hard-earned money to help others,” said Houston. The Pope Francis House is being built in addition to the regular Catholic Build house this year, so organizers must raise the $40,000 matching grant in addition to $80,000 for the Catholic Build.
To donate or learn more about the Pope Francis Build, visit the HFHMCA website at or call 601-353-6060.