The legacy of the Sisters of Humility: advocates for fair housing

Barb Arland-Fye
Ashley Velez, left, executive director of Humility Homes & Services, Inc. in Davenport, and Sister Johanna Rickl, president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport, pause during a tour of an HHSI home. HHSI helps individuals and families dealing with affordable housing issues.

By Barb Arland-Fye and Josh Graves
The Catholic Messenger

In 1987, a group of dedicated individuals, including members of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary (CHM) in Davenport, gathered monthly to address the pressing needs of the Quad Cities community. Among the myriad issues discussed, one stood out: affordable housing. This marked the beginning of a journey that led the CHM sisters to develop a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing, now known as Humility Homes & Services Inc. (HHSI), which has uplifted thousands of individuals and families.

April is National Fair Housing Month, a good time to reflect on the growing need for affordable housing, the legacy of the CHM sisters in that arena and the continuing commitment of HHSI to ensure that everyone has a place to call home. Together, they have been instrumental in advocating for fair and accessible housing for all, their supporters say.

“The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He believed firmly that you could not address systematic issues without addressing housing equality for all. This is the basis of our work, which lives rich in the sisters’ legacy as they went to Washington, D.C., in 1989 to march for housing justice,” said Ashley Velez, executive director of HHSI.


“We continue his work and the sisters’ legacy as we believe in a housing first model along with fair housing. No one should be discriminated against for housing because of their economic status, criminal or eviction record and/or due to suffering from a disability,” Velez continued. “Yet we still see this every day in the work that we do locally. Sixty percent of our population that we serve has a disability of long duration, which puts up barriers for them in housing.”

Every state lacks affordable housing, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Iowa has 101,442 extremely low-income renter households. The number of affordable and available rental houses is 42 for every 100 extremely low-income households, the coalition reports. The average nationwide is 34 for every 100 extremely low-income households.

Sister Mary Ann Vogel, a founder and current board member of HHSI, and Sister Johanna Rickl (CHM president), for years have cultivated affordable housing solutions and support services to individual and families in need. Sister Vogel recalls the march on Washington, D.C., to end homelessness. Joined by sisters, students and community members, they raised their voices in solidarity with tens of thousands of others, chanting, “What do we want?”  “HOUSING!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!” They demanded immediate action to address the housing crisis.

Inspired to act

In response, the CHM community undertook the arduous work to address homelessness 34 years ago, after engaging in research, reflection and conversations with the greater Quad Cities community. The sisters opened their first apartment building to provide affordable homes to four families. Through the years, HHSI acquired more properties to benefit individuals and families in the Quad Cities. Today, more than 350 persons participate collectively in HHSI’s shelter and housing programs each day.

The CHMs sisters, recognizing the need to pass on their commitment to the next generation, chose to develop an organization of lay leaders, staff and board members who will continue the sisters’ mission for years to come. “We’re trying to meet the needs of the people. There are such a variety of needs,” Sister Vogel says. “We have to provide good homes for people. But also important is providing the services they need to become more self-sufficient. We have a great staff who care about the people they work for.”

She acknowledges that the great need for equitable and affordable housing requires community support. “You know you have made a difference because other people help make it possible. It’s a community project,” Sister Vogel said. “We are so appreciative of the support we’ve received in those 30-some years and the difference it makes in the lives of so many people.”

Committed for the long haul

Sister Mary Ann Vogel, CHM, enjoys bonding with a baby while providing childcare in this file photo from the early years of Humility of Mary Housing, Inc., in Davenport. She and several other CHM sisters helped care for children ranging from infants to school age while their parents were meeting with resource persons.

“The more ‘blood, sweat and tears’ one invests in any work or ministry, the more committed one is to its outcomes,” Sister Rickl said. “I came onto the board of Humility of Mary Housing in August 2008, the month that work was done in order to open Humility of Mary Shelter in September 2008. Now that Humility Homes & Services, Inc. is moving forward in response to new challenges, I find myself still committed to seeing this agency succeed. Success means adapting to new realities so every person has a home.  While living out my Gospel commitment, I feel called to serve a bit longer as a board member to help solidify the progress already made. My hope for HHSI’s future is that it continue to be an honest, compassionate and cutting-edge nonprofit that, united to a generous community, helps provide a home for all people who are unhoused in our local area.”

HHSI’s supporters hope the story of the CHM community’s commitment to and advocacy on behalf of fair and equitable housing for all people will inspire the greater community to recommit themselves to this cause. Whether through volunteering, advocacy or financial support, a commitment to working for affordable housing can help lead to a brighter future grounded in compassion, resilience and hope, HHSI supporters say.

Leslie Kilgannon, executive director of the Quad Cities Housing Council, knows firsthand of the CHM community’s commitment, having volunteered 27 years ago with their Seeds of Hope program. She says, “The sisters have been leaders and a consistent voice in advocating for safe, affordable and decent housing.”

Visit HHSI’s website ( to learn more about volunteer and donor opportunities or call 563-326-1330. 

(Joshua Graves is HHSI’s director of Marketing Development.)

Facts about HHSI

Humility Homes & Services Inc. (HHSI) operates an emergency shelter at 1016 W. 5th St., Davenport, that houses up to 80 adults year-round. It is the only low-barrier shelter in the Quad Cities, according to HHSI. The nonprofit organization founded by the Congregation of the Humility of Mary also provides supportive living programs and mission-focused affordable housing rentals. Some of these federal programs include Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Rehousing, and Veterans Services Programs. In 2022, HHSI added 60 additional housing units totaling 152 units that provide individuals and families the opportunity to transition from homelessness to stability in housing.

HHSI’s core values, posted on its website: housing is a human right; integrity (acting in accord with strong, ethical principles; accountability (honoring its commitments); and community (partnerships and collaboration are essential in ending homelessness).

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