The History of Bethany Apartments

Bethany Apartments: giving women a foundation for a new beginning.

In the late 1980s, the Racine Dominican Sisters were offered a large building near their motherhouse for use in their ministries. Under the direction of Sister Evelyn Lins, the sisters conducted a survey of pastoral needs in Racine. One such need that they uncovered was the lack of housing for victims of domestic abuse who had been at emergency shelters. They found that women and children were often leaving the shelters with nowhere to go after their stay. After consulting with 18 non-profit agencies for ideas, the dream of Bethany began to crystallize.

"I spoke with women at the Women's Resource Center, a shelter for victims of abuse, and they all spoke to the fact that they needed something besides a shelter. After their 30-day stay was up, women were returning to abusive situations, poverty or homelessness, because they had nowhere else to go," Sister Evelyn said.

The search for an appropriate building began soon after this. After several false starts, a location in downtown Racine was identified. A former Catholic school, it needed extensive renovation to convert it into apartments. Realizing how large the project was becoming, the Racine Dominicans approached the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters who had expertise in running housing projects. The resulting collaboration established Catherine Marian Housing, Inc. (CMH).

Rembert Weakland, then-Archbishop of Milwaukee, assisted CMH in purchasing the vacant school by forgiving the mortgage that was held by the Archdiocese; renovation began soon after. Loans totaling more than $500,000 from WHEDA (Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority), the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters and the Racine Dominicans were crucial to the renovation. The three-story school building became a twelve-unit apartment complex with common areas, office space and a resident manager’s apartment.

How did the project get the name Bethany Apartments? “Bethany,” Sister Evelyn explained, “was the place where Jesus would go for respite with people who cared for him. These women come at a time in their lives when they need respite.”

Bethany is now in its 27th year of operation. Since it opened its doors to the first resident in late 1990, 280 women and over 400 children have been served. Seventeen women and 25 children were served in 2016 and the program is at capacity for 2017.

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