Breaking ground, building dreams with Pope Francis house


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Davenport resident Avita Hicks and her two daughters will soon achieve their dream of home ownership with a little help from Scott County Catholics and a lot of inspiration from Pope Francis.

Lindsay Steele
Avita Hicks and Bishop Martin Amos, right, celebrate the groundbreaking of the Pope Francis home in Davenport May 2 with Hicks’ daughters Jada and Adrianne. An anonymous donor, Scott County Catholics and others have donated money to the Habitat for Humanity house, which Hicks will own upon its completion.

Habitat for Humanity Quad Cities, local volunteers and donors broke ground on a Pope Francis home on the warm, sunny morning of May 2. Bishop Martin Amos blessed the project as Hicks and her daughters looked on with smiles of gratitude.

The project began with an anonymous donor contributing $60,000 to Habitat for Humanity to create a home in honor of Pope Francis. According to Dougal Nelson, director of development for Habitat for Humanity Quad Cities, the donor’s intention was threefold: 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 together towards a common goal; and to further Habitat’s mission of building and preserving homes. Pope Francis homes, each sparked by a $60,000 donation, have sprung up across the country, though under the request for anonymity. Nelson would neither confirm nor deny whether the same person was responsible for each home’s initial donation.


Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to provide safe, affordable shelter to families who demonstrate a level of need and a willingness to volunteer with the program. Habitat grants affordable, no-interest loans to the homeowners at mortgage rates they can afford. The homes are built with efficiency in mind in an effort to keep energy costs low. Hicks works full-time in addition to completing her 250-hour volunteer requirement with Habitat. “She’s the little engine that could,” said Kristi Crafton, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Quad Cities and Hicks’ personal mentor. “She’s determined, hard-working, reliable and willing to do anything it takes to provide for her family.”

Habitat for Humanity needs $100,000 to complete the home; the donor intended for local Catholic groups and other donors to work together to raise the additional $40,000.

Knights of Columbus councils from Holy Family Parish in Davenport and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf have raised several thousand dollars so far. A number of other Knights councils in Scott County are planning to do the same, said Bob Jones, state membership director of the Iowa Knights of Columbus and a trustee of the Holy Family Knights of Columbus council in Davenport. Sisters from the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport donated to the construction efforts, with many on hand to celebrate the groundbreaking. Additional contributors include Davenport’s St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School student council, Wells Fargo and individual donors. Fundraising efforts are ongoing; Nelson said Habitat is about half-way to the $40,000 mark.

Crafton said St. Ambrose University and Assumption High School are planning to help with construction efforts. Jones said Knights of Columbus in Scott County plan to contribute labor as well.

Nelson said Scott County Catholics “have been very, very involved and doing a knockout job. It’s unbelievable.”

Lindsay Steele
Sister Donna Schmitt, CHM, left, and Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM, sign a board that will be installed in the Pope Francis home in Davenport. Congregation of the Humility of Mary is one of many Catholic groups who have either made donations or plan to fundraise for the project.

Bishop Amos told The Catholic Messenger, “I am pleased that at a local level we are able in such a wonderful way to respond to Pope Francis’ call to serve those in need.”
How quickly the 1,200-square-foot home on Tremont Avenue is completed depends on the dedication of volunteers and donors, Nelson said. “The sooner we get built, the sooner the family will have a safe, secure home.”

As the home is completed, Christians of different denominations will be working side by side. Another Habitat home is being built next door, sponsored by Thrivent Builds, Scott County Housing Council, Wells Fargo and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport. “On the left side, we have Lutherans helping build a home and on the right we have Catholics and their Pope Francis home,” Nelson said. The May 2 groundbreaking event kicked off building efforts for both homes. “It’s really going to show the unification and coming together of our Christian community. At Habitat we believe everyone is a child of God. We don’t discriminate by race, religion or gender. It’s going to be a great event to bring everyone together in one spot.”

Bob Jones, state membership director of the Iowa Knights of Columbus and a trustee of the Holy Family Knights of Columbus council in Davenport, said he appreciates the opportunity for different faiths to work together. “Working aside somebody (of a different faith) makes you understand more about where they are coming from and they have a chance to learn about your Catholic faith.”

Hicks, a Baptist, is grateful for all the support she is receiving on her journey to home ownership. “I’m just so happy to have a home for my girls. I have goals; this is one of them. I just want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart.”

Habitat for Humanity is accepting additional donations and volunteers for the Pope Francis home build. To donate online go to and be sure to indicate “Pope Francis House” in the notes. To inquire about donations and volunteer opportunities by phone call the Habitat for Humanity Quad Cities office at (563) 359-9066.

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