| By Fred Afflerbach | Correspondent

Catholics Habitat Build is ‘God’s work’

Years after Bishop John McCarthy’s death in 2018, his legacy continues every spring when the saws start singing and the drills begin buzzing on another Bishop John McCarthy Memorial Habitat home.

Now in its 27th year, the Catholic Build is the brainchild of Bishop McCarthy, who served as bishop from 1986 to 2001 and who was a longtime advocate for helping people living on the margins of society. To encourage and inspire volunteers, he often cited the book of James saying that their faith was well demonstrated by their works.

Tom Helmer, a parishioner at St. Patrick Parish in Hutto, has worked on a McCarthy Habitat House every year since 1998. He remembers Bishop McCarthy celebrating the camaraderie that building a house together brings to folks who were perfect strangers just hours before.

“Bishop McCarthy would say, ‘This is God’s work,’” Helmer said.

This year 30 or so volunteers with Habitat for Humanity’s annual Bishop John McCarthy Memorial Catholic Build began working in east Austin in February. Hissing air compressors, shrill electric saws and pulsating drills announced the construction of the home for a low-income family.

One couple wearing bright orange T-shirts that said “Future Homeowner” squatted and helped raise an interior wall. The couple, Aline and Manoa Sebahizi, are working toward the 200 hours of sweat equity Habitat homeowners are required to complete.

Manoa and his wife are refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have nine children, though only two still live in their apartment with them. Manoa works for the custodial department at the University of Texas in Austin. The family expects to move into their new home late summer.

Angel Leverett, director of Marketing and Communications at Habitat for Humanity’s Austin office, said the Catholic Build is a “well-oiled machine.” Habitat supplies the plans, lot, concrete slab and building materials, while Helmer and crew perform most of the construction, from raising and attaching walls to installing siding, windows and doors, and finally, painting.

“It means a lot to see the Catholic volunteers step up. Four months of Saturdays they’re working on this. Most of these volunteers are working full-time jobs,” Leverett said. “If those who are part of the Austin Catholic Community are looking for ways to give back, this is such an incredible opportunity.”

Heather Hubbs, a University of Texas sophomore from Floresville, saw a flyer on campus asking for volunteers. That’s all it took for her to get involved.

“I had never used a nail gun, power tool or anything. It was a great experience,” she said. “It’s really nice that Habitat gets us all together and builds houses for people who can’t really afford it, especially in Austin.”

Longtime volunteer Doug ‘Framing’ Raymond, also a parishioner of St. Patrick Parish in Hutto, sentimentally recalled the families now living in Habitat homes he has helped build. During one dedication, the homeowner asked everyone to be quiet and then pointed out the birds chirping as opposed to the gunshots heard in her previous neighborhood. And on one unfinished home, an excited young boy rushed throughout the house asking where his room would be. And there was the woman who lost her home in a fire yet returned Saturday after Saturday, building her sweat equity, knowing if she persevered, she would soon move into her new home.

“It brings you to tears. It gives you a kind of chill,” Raymond said. “That’s why I keep going back year after year after year.”

The 2024 Catholic Build home will have four bedrooms, two baths and a garage — 1,650 square feet of Austin Energy 4-Star certified space.

Habitat for Humanity is an international non-profit that builds quality modest homes at affordable prices for low-income families. It is celebrating 40 years building homes with a vision “of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.”

The Catholic Build, which will continue through the end of May, always needs volunteers. No experience is necessary.

How to Volunteer

Information on how to sign up is available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/AustinCatholicBuild/.

Basic qualifications for potential homeowners

Earnest money of $3,000.

Credit score of 620 or higher.

Qualify for mortgage with proper documentation.

200 hours sweat equity working on the house.

Fred Afflerbach is a freelance writer living in Cedar Park. He is a 26-year member of the Knights of Columbus Council at St. Margaret Mary Parish. His work has been published in several daily Texas newspapers and he has published two novels.

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