Called by the Spirit

Written by Sister Kathleen Feeley, SSND,
Marian House Board Member

Sister Sharon Brunier, a School Sister of Notre Dame, (SSND), lost her heart  to the ministry at Marian House—helping women begin a new life after personal struggles—on August 15, 1987, the day she joined the staff as a pastoral counselor. She has always felt that the Holy Spirit led her to Marian House, and she has never left. 

Sister Sharon’s earlier ministry was teaching in SSND schools in Maryland and South Carolina for 15 years. She left the South to obtain a master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling. Upon her graduation, she began looking for an appropriate ministry. At a large SSND gathering, Marian House Board member Sr. Ellis Denny told her that Marian House, a co-sponsored ministry of SSND had an opening for a counselor. Sr. Sharon applied and was hired by then Executive Director Sr. Marilyn Graf, RSM.

After serving for 11 years in that position, Sharon felt the need for a change. A new counselor replaced her, and she took a six months sabbatical. She had not intended to return, but she found that her heart was still there. She took a position in the Development Office, reaching out to current and potential donors for six years. Then the position of Education Coordinator opened, and she found that she could combine her talents as educator and counselor.

For the past 17 years, Sister Sharon has worked with Marian House women to achieve educational goals by first counseling them on the power that education brings, and then helping them to set goals and achieve them.

One of her bittersweet memories is of Dawn, who completed Marian House I, and moved across the street to supportive housing at Serenity Place with her three-year-old son, her only family. Dawn really wanted to obtain her GED. Sister Sharon worked with her, and she passed all the exams but math. Dawn was ready to give up. But Sharon was not. She tutored her and worked with her until Dawn finally passed math. But obtaining her GED was only one of Dawn’s dreams. Sadly, those dreams were left unfulfilled. Dawn died four years later after a valiant battle with cancer.

Sister Sharon is a Spirit-centered woman. After 34 years of fruitful ministry at 949 Gorsuch Avenue, she feels blessed to still be where her heart led her: to the women of Marian House.



Giving Spotlight – Stephanie Hay

Stephanie (Steph) Hay works as a Lab Tech in East Baltimore and lives in the Homeland neighborhood of Baltimore City. She visited Marian House for a Thank You Thursday tour in 2019 after learning about our work online through Charity Navigator.

She has been a monthly donor ever since. Steph was looking to support a women’s organization and was impressed with the level of support provided to program participants, the length and depth of the program and the focus on holistic healing. 

Steph has been a long-time and faithful donor with her church. She finds working with oncology patients through her job tremendously rewarding, but was looking for another way to contribute to those who haven’t been as lucky to have the blessings and support that helped her on her own path forward. 

She believes in monthly giving because she knows “it’s the most effective way to financially support” the good work of Marian House and the automated giving helps her to be efficient with her time and ease any worries about  forgetfulness when life gets too busy. 

Recurring donations are especially valuable to Marian House because they are a reliable source of income and have a higher giving and retention rate from year-to-year. Having a committed group of loyal supporters helps bolster our annual campaigns and sustain us through lean times. With the economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, this has never been more important.

You can set up automated donations in any amount and schedule based on your budget and personal finances. As little as $25 monthly earns you a spot in the Marian House Community of Care. Monthly donations can be set up through marianhouse.org/donate by e-check, credit or debit card. You can suspend or adjust this giving at any time. 

Monthly donors can choose to receive tax acknowledgments monthly by mail or email or elect to receive one statement at the end of the tax year, cutting down on extra paperwork. Monthly donors can also participate via payroll deductions through special programs like the Maryland Charities Campaigns, United Way, etc. Check with your company to see if they have a payroll deduction program already set up to assist you. 

If you’re interested in exploring monthly giving, please reach out to Beth at 410-467-4246 or advancement@marianhouse.org.






Keya Gardner is a recent successful graduate of the Marian House program. She has much to be thankful for but that has not always been the case. 

Keya describes her early years as difficult, indicating that she was always getting into trouble and “running with the wrong crowd.” Keya’s parents had an abusive relationship. Her mother had a substance use disorder, and left the father when Keya was 10 years old. Keya began to use alcohol and drugs at the age of 12, and soon she, too became addicted.

Keya attributes the behaviors that led to an 11-year incarceration when she was 24 years old to much pent-up anger throughout her childhood. Upon her release in February 2019, Keya went to a recovery program where she spent 6 months addressing her substance use issues. 

Keya entered the Marian House I program in the fall of 2019. When asked what she most enjoyed about Marian House, Keya responded, 


“Everything! They helped me readjust to society. They taught me how to budget and how to keep to a schedule. They provided the structure I needed. I don’t think I ever got a warning for bad behavior!” 



Keya took part in the Job Readiness program, a requirement for all the women in Marian House I. During mock interviews on the last day of the class, she scored so well that she was accepted into the Johns Hopkins on-the-job training program for an administrative position, the first Marian House resident to do so. Upon completion of her training, Hopkins did not have an administrative position available. Instead, they offered her a job in another area until a Talent Acquisition Specialist position opened up. “They didn’t want to lose me,” Keya stated. Keya is often mentioned by Johns Hopkins as one of their best employees. She has definitely set the bar high for future referrals from Marian House to Johns Hopkins! 

Keya moved on to the Marian House II program on March 2, 2020, and enjoyed the independent living that comes with that setting. Keya said,

“Marian House really prepared me for living on my own and having to be responsible for my life.”

After working at Johns Hopkins for a year and saving a substantial amount of money, Keya moved into her own apartment on February 28th, 2021. Here she is reunited with her two daughters Tay (18) and Liyah (13). They live in a 3-bedroom, 2 ½ bath house with a fenced in back yard. She is still working at Johns Hopkins and hopes to pursue CNA / GNA training in the near future. She also works part-time as a House Manager at a local drug treatment program. “I am in a good place and look forward to  the opportunities in store for me and my daughters in the future,” said Keya.

The future is bright for Keya and her daughters. We are so glad that she found her way to Marian House and we are proud to call her a Marian House graduate!





Thank You

Our 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign broke previous records. We had an outstanding number of donations made in a 24-hour period, far exceeding the expected number of gifts that we might receive.

We know there are many worthwhile organizations to support and we are fortunate that you have chosen Marian House as the beneficiary of your giving. Thank You!


Anyone who knows Marian House knows that we celebrate as many holidays as possible.

Why? Because there is a lot to be thankful for, because it’s important to infuse hard work with a bit of fun, and because we like providing the practice of sober festivities! In an extraordinary year such a this, it has undoubtedly affected our ability to gather and party in our usual ways. Nevertheless, the Marian House community rose to the occasion, celebrating the fall and winter holidays in smaller and safer ways.

Halloween brought us pumpkin carving and a movie night for Marian House I. With the help of some new volunteers, the Marian House families celebrated with outdoor Zumba, treat bags and socially distant activities for the kids.

Our Thanksgiving dinner, usually celebrated with dozens of staff and volunteers, was a much smaller event this year. We are grateful to many of you who provided gift cards, meal supplies and yummy treats to help the ladies cook in their respective homes, buildings and programs.

Christmas in a pandemic also brought new challenges. Many of our circle of faith and corporate partners were unable to assist us in the same ways this year because remote work and worship do not provide the same ease for managing a giving tree or gift drive. Despite these challenges, we were blessed by many new donors and returning elves to help us shop from holiday wish lists for all the women and children of Marian House. Many of you chose to shop safely online and ship direct to us, all the while helping us receive some extra financial support through the Amazon Smile Foundation (where you can select Marian House to receive a percentage of your purchases on Amazon).

Despite fewer and smaller celebrations, we still had the kind of observances that fed our souls. With your help, Marian House was able to provide gifts for over 140 women and their families. The staff and ladies were overwhelmed by your generosity and the way the larger community surrounded us with love and support. Thank you for sharing your blessings with Marian House this season and always!


How do you cure cabin fever in the middle of a pandemic? You go camping of course!!!

When residents were asked to make a list of activities they were interested in doing, one item immediately jumped out to Marian House Executive Director, Katie Allston. Many of the residents wanted to go camping.

Katie is an avid camper as well as a Girl Scout troop leader and agreed to take a small group of residents on an overnight camping trip in early October. Equipped with tents, sleeping bags, and plenty of food, a group of 10 took the Marian House bus to Patapsco State Park in Baltimore County.

Once they arrived at the State Park and set-up their camp, they took a long hike, accompanied by Katie’s dog Piper. Most of the women had never been camping before and some had hesitations and fears about wildlife that they might encounter. Once they pitched their tents and started a campfire, they felt more at ease. Some residents and staff did not spend the night but participated in the hike and campfire before heading back to Marian House. This could become an annual excursion!





Collaborations with MWHC


We are pleased to announce that on December 4th, the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center (MWHC) signed a one-year lease to move into the 1,000 square foot shop space at the Women’s Industrial Exchange building at 333 N. Charles Street.

The mission of MWHC is to achieve positive change in the lives of Marylanders by recognizing and documenting contributions of women to our social, political and economic order, and promoting opportunities and equality for women and girls.

The MWHC has been searching for a new location from which to operate its programs and house their continuing and changing exhibits about individuals, organizations, events, and special topics related to Maryland women. Programming ideas for the future of MWHC include interactive exhibits, seminars on women’s issues, a gift shop with unique gifts by Maryland women, and much more.

“MWHC is thrilled to have a new home with such a deep and rich history in the community. It is a natural fit for our organization to begin a new chapter at the historic building” said Diana Bailey, Executive Director of MWHC.

Marian House is proud to collaborate with another women’s organization to help honor the history of the building and all the work and business that has happened in that space over the years.

Don’t forget, we still need your input as we move forward to explore more long-term goals for all the commercial spaces in the WIE building. Please share your ideas and express any unmet business and service needs in the community by filling out our online survey at surveymonkey.com/r/DSWH5VZ.

Welcome to the New Marian House Board Members

Marian House is pleased to introduce you to our newest board members, who joined the board in November 2020. Each of the new board members will serve at minimum a three-year term. We look forward to working with them over the next several years, and thank them and all of our board members for their dedicated service.


Welcome to the New Marian House Board Members


MEGAN BURNETT is a Senior Associate at the law firm of Miles & Stockbridge, where she practices commercial litigation.



CHERYL MOORE-THOMAS, Ph.D., NCC, is the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, as well as Professor of Counselor Education at Loyola University Maryland.



KERIANNE KEMMERZELL, is an Associate at the law firm of Tydings LLP, in the firm’s family law group and litigation department.



Happy New Year from everyone at Marian House! I am sure you join me in feeling somewhat relieved that 2020 is over, even though we know we are not over the hurdle yet. With the arrival of a vaccine now in our midst, we join you in having some hope for relief soon.

Despite a tumultuous year, we are grateful for all the good we have experienced in 2020. It is the year that Marian House continued to expand, as we acquired the Women’s Industrial Exchange (WIE) building in June. This exciting opportunity allowed us to add seven more apartment units to our housing portfolio, many of which are already occupied by Marian House alums! We also established a new partnership with the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, now located in the storefront space of WIE at 333 North Charles Street. Marian House also recently purchased a property on Greenmount Avenue, giving us five more apartment units in which we can place Marian House women and children.

This year we showed our resilience and adapted in ways we never imagined! As you may know, our annual Race to Embrace Independence 5K went fully virtual. While we missed seeing you in person on race day, you “showed up” nonetheless and helped us meet and even exceed our fundraising goals. This was just one way our dedicated supporters showed their faith in and support of our program in this pandemic!

You are the main reason that 2020 was a good year for Marian House. Your support and generosity throughout the year ensured that we could pivot during this pandemic, without compromising the services that our women and children need and deserve. We appreciate your prayers, notes and donations. We are truly blessed to have you in our fold.

In this newsletter, we share more positive highlights from 2020, including the first Marian House camping trip. We also highlight the Smolen family who have generously given their time and talent to us in different ways, as well as a resident whose story highlights how your support changes lives!

We know the challenges we all faced last year will not simply disappear in 2021, still, we are grateful for another year to provide housing and support services to women and children in need. With a focus on the future, we are already planning a 40th Anniversary celebration for April of 2022! Please stay tuned for details.

We wish you a year of health, happiness, and hope for 2021. We look forward to the same.









There are many ways you can volunteer for Marian House and the Smolen Family of four has proven that.

John Smolen is a Marian House volunteer and his connection to us dates to 2008, a connection he describes as “hanging out in Katie’s circles.” (Katie Allston, Executive Director). At the time, John was on the board of the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) and knew about Marian House from running into Katie at Cub Scout meetings. Katie’s son Quinn was in the Cub Scout pack with John’s son, where John was Scout Master. Katie’s husband Paul grew up in Kansas City, about one mile from where John Smolen grew up. Talk about six degrees of separation!

John is a lawyer at the prestigious firm of Ballard Spahr LLP, where they have a very strong “pro bono culture” and where John holds the 2020 Pro Bono Honor Roll Gold recognition. The firm’s belief is that a charity’s money is better spent on their mission than paying for legal services. Marian House was the beneficiary of Ballard Spahr’s generosity when we learned about the acquisition of the Women’s Industrial Exchange (WIE) Building and had a need for legal services.

Marian House had the pleasure of working with a team of five lawyers and paralegals: John Smolen, Teri Guarnaccia, Alyssa Domzal, Marybeth Orsini and Kate McDonald. John stated, “the Ballard Spahr team is super supportive of pro bono work and this was no exception. This was a fairly routine real estate transaction and was a teaching opportunity for some of our younger lawyers and paralegals.”

John’s wife Jenny is the business manager of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, a combination of three churches in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore.

Jenny was able to direct financial donations to Marian House from the church collections. John and Jenny are also personal donors to Marian House and have participated in our 5K Race for many years.

Felix Smolen, John & Jenny’s son, attends Mt. St. Joe’s High School and recently volunteered at Marian House to meet some of his service hour requirements. John and Jenny’s daughter, Rae, attends The Catholic High School and is planning to do some service hours at Marian House as soon as she is able.

When asked why the Smolen family is so devoted to Marian House John replied, “the Catholic connection was definitely a part of it. I have a deep- rooted Catholic faith and have an aunt who is a Sister of Mercy. The fact that Marian House was founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Sisters of Mercy made it easy for my family to connect with Marian House.”

We are grateful to the Smolen family and the team from Ballard Spahr for their support of the Marian House mission.