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Magdalene House

A Place about Mercy

Sarah VanHooser Suiter

Publication Year: 2012

Women come to Magdalene House in Nashville when they are ready to leave the streets. They live togetherunsupervised and free of chargefor two years. During that time, the women are given time, space, and the resources they need to heal from what have often been lifelong experiences with suffering. (Of the twentytwo women now in residence, 80 percent have a diagnosed mental illness other than addiction, 40 percent are receiving treatment for hepatitis C, and onethird are HIV positive.)

However, the story of the Magdalene community is not about these statistics, but about the stories the women tell. They say they thrive in the community because it is a place where they are free to be themselves, safe to give and receive love, and free to speak their trutheven to complain sometimes about how their storytelling is exploited "for the good of the community." A Place about Mercy is a participantobservation account of the history of this remarkable community founded in 1997, its structure, its Thistle Farms beauty products operation, and Reverend Becca Stevens's communal and spiritual vision. The book is finally about what it means to walk the path of healing with a group of unlikely women as guide.

Magdalene House was the subject of a multiplepart documentary on National Public Radio.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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pp. iii-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

During the course of writing this book, I have been supported, encouraged, challenged, and loved by too many people to count. This book would not be possible without them, nor would my life be nearly as rich and full. “Thank you” seems an inadequate...

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pp. 1-8

Consider Tam, a woman who grew up in a home where her alcoholic stepfather, a well-regarded clinician, was emotionally abusive, yet revered.1 Tam started drinking when she was eleven, and was addicted to alcohol and using other drugs by the time she reached...

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1. Magdalene

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pp. 9-31

My first exposure to the Magdalene House program took place during my first year of graduate school. One of my professors assigned a project for which each student had to observe a local service organization and conduct an evaluation using a particular...

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2. The Path of Illness: How Women Get to Magdalene

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pp. 32-53

There is no formula that neatly predicts a woman’s progression to the streets. If you were to ask the women at Magdalene, “How did you get to Magdalene?” you would quickly realize that there is no one experience they all hold in common: many had abusive parents,...

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3. The Story of One

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pp. 54-73

Because narratives of addiction and recovery are so often individual stories of personal failure and triumph, one of my goals in writing this book is to help connect these individual stories— their accounts of abuse, despair, poverty, healing, hope, and change—...

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4. Health and Healing: Seeking Definition

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pp. 74-94

When I asked women at Magdalene House what it meant to be “well,” they often started by telling me about what wellness is not. Their sense of themselves while they were on the streets— and often after they had come off—was that they had a long way to...

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5. St. Benedict's Ghost: Hospitality as Community Practice

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pp. 95-113

As described by the women of Magdalene House, the streets are a conundrum of paradoxes: time is at once nonexistent and pressing, space is always present but never available, and resources are painfully close but desperately out of reach. On the one hand,...

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6. Come as You Are: Love, Forgiveness, and Belonging

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pp. 114-135

With any illness comes not only the actual physical or mental manifestation of disease, but also the way disease is interpreted. Years of study have demonstrated that the interpretation of pain and illness is as important as the disease itself in determining how...

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7. Speaking Our Truth in Love

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pp. 136-153

Just as sharing stories is a healing practice within the Magdalene House community, sharing stories with other communities, organizations, and funders serves an important purpose as well. Spreading “the message of Magdalene” entails speaking at public events, publishing...

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8. Healing Still

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pp. 154-168

When women compare their lives before Magdalene to their lives during and after, they draw stark contrasts that indicate the powerful change in both their circumstances and their notions of self. They talk about the transitions they experienced using phrases...

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pp. 169-172

Every year at Magdalene House’s fundraising benefit, the staff gives the Julia Basquette Award to the “volunteer of the year.” The award is named in memory of a former Magdalene resident who left the program to care for her ailing mother, relapsed, and returned...


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pp. 173-174


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pp. 175-184


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pp. 185-190

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518392
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518378

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 806431209
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Magdalene House

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Magdelene House (Organization).
  • Halfway houses -- Tennessee -- Nashville.
  • Group homes -- Tennessee -- Nashville.
  • Female offenders -- Rehabilitation -- Tennessee -- Nashville.
  • Female offenders -- Services for -- Tennessee -- Nashville.
  • Homeless women -- Services for -- Tennessee -- Nashville.
  • Abused women -- Services for -- Tennessee -- Nashville.
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