Following God's Calling
The history of St. Mary Development
Our Video History
Learn about the history of St. Mary Development in 12 minutes of video.
Our Written History
Learn about the history of St. Mary Development in 8 minutes of reading.
Dick and Sr. Rose meet
In 1980, Dick McBride and Sr. Rose Wildenhaus met when they both served on a social justice committee for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The committee looked at ways to help the poor by sharing God’s love with them and working to meet their basic needs.
They dealt with topics such as poverty, education, immigration and racism. Dick and Sr. Rose said the social justice committee talked a lot – but Dick and Sr. Rose wanted to do more than talk. They felt God calling them to action but they didn't know what action. They knew they wanted to share God’s love with the poor, so Dick and Sr. Rose prayed for guidance.
The St. Leonard opportunity
Dick went to Mass every day at the St. Leonard Seminary in Centerville. It was run by the Franciscan Religious Order to prepare young men to become priests. But the number of young men entering the priesthood was dwindling and Dick heard the Franciscans were thinking about selling the entire 240-acre campus. Dick and Sr. Rose prayed about this opportunity.
An ideal situation for God
They felt God was calling them to buy the property and create homes for the poor. But there were a few obstacles in their way. First, they knew nothing about building homes or apartments. Second, they knew nothing about managing affordable housing. Third, they both had full-time jobs. Dick travelled a lot and wasn't even in town most of the time. Fourth, there were a lot of other organizations willing to pay millions of dollars for the property and Dick and Sr. Rose didn't have any money. As you can see, it was an ideal situation – an ideal situation to trust in God.
A miracle with a catch
So with nothing more than their faith and God’s call in their hearts, Dick and Sr. Rose made an offer to purchase the St. Leonard property. The offer was $1. Not even a penny per acre. They prayed the Franciscans would be open to their vision for the property.
The Franciscans served the poor. They liked Dick and Sr. Rose's idea to create homes for those in need. They said yes to the $1 offer even though they had other offers of millions of dollars for the property. Buying something worth millions for a buck is a miracle. But it was a miracle with a catch.
Only $67,000 short
The Franciscans had three small stipulations. Within 3 months Dick and Sr. Rose needed to:
Dick and Sr. Rose prayed. They prayed for strength. They prayed for God to guide them. And they prayed for $500,000.
Dick and Sr. Rose put together a presentation and shared it with different Catholic religious orders and Christian churches. They told the groups how God was calling them to create homes for those in need. They asked them to join in God’s plan by investing in the St. Leonard project.
God opened doors and large donations started to arrive – $50,000 gifts. After two months they had raised $433,000 but were still $67,000 short of their $500,000 goal.
Surprisingly, the Archbishop of Cincinnati had not yet made a donation to help fund the project. So Sr. Rose wrote a letter to the Archbishop and shared their vision and success. A few weeks later they received a check for $67,000 from the Archbishop. Dick and Sr. Rose prayed in thanksgiving for all the support they had received.
A lesson in humility
With the property rezoned, feasibility study complete and $500,000 in hand, they went back to the Franciscans and bought St. Leonard. That was in 1982. They owned the property but still didn’t know anything about rehabbing buildings and managing senior apartments. They prayed for God’s guidance and wisdom. They learned as they worked and they asked others for advice and help.
Dick and Sr. Rose rehabbed the building where the seminarians lived and turned it into 70 affordable apartments. In the next three years they built 84 market-rate homes on the property. Sr. Rose sold all of them. Every single home was bought with cash – no mortgages.
They created a program for high school students with disabilities teaching them how to make beds. They built an addition and added more apartments. They built a 100-bed nursing home. St. Leonard was an incredible success. And every day Dick and Sr. Rose prayed for wisdom as they built and managed the St. Leonard community.
Following the call to Dayton
As they prayed, they felt God calling them to something new. St. Leonard was well established. God was calling them to go to where there were even more people in need. God was calling them to move from Centerville to Dayton.
Dick and Sr. Rose turned St. Leonard over to another group and moved into the empty St. Mary School, behind St. Mary Church on Xenia Avenue in Dayton. They went from a successful, established organization back to having nothing. But that was okay because they were following God’s call.
They started a new nonprofit and called it St. Mary Development Corporation. (Our name comes from the name of the school where our first office was located.)
That was 1989. Sr. Rose began working for St. Mary Development full time but Dick was still working full-time for another organization.
Focusing on community
Dick and Sr. Rose focused on the Twin Towers neighborhood. St. Mary School had been closed for 20 years. Sr. Rose started weekly bingo to raise money to repair the old school building. The rehab project allowed the school to be used as a community center. The Dayton Public Schools provided GED classes. The building became a neighborhood gathering place and a Community Council was created.
A long to-do list
Because Dick was still working full-time at his other job and travelled every week, he'd write a to-list on the old school blackboard. Actually, it wasn’t a to-do list. It was a "Rose-do list." The list was everything he wanted Sr. Rose to get done while he was away all week.
Sr. Rose walked the neighborhood. She met the residents. Dick and Sr. Rose prayed. They prayed for economic justice. They prayed for guidance.
A grocery store and HomeOwnership Center
To help create jobs and a place to shop, Dick and Sr. Rose created the Twin Towers Food Mart on Xenia Avenue. They bought the old Academy Bowling Lanes and transformed it into an early learning center for the children of the neighborhood. While they did many types of social service work, God kept calling Dick and Sr. Rose back to housing. They rehabbed many single-family homes in the Twin Towers neighborhood. To help with this work, they bought Haws Construction Company, which became Southeast Dayton Housing, the construction division of St. Mary Development.
Dick and Sr. Rose saw that people needed help becoming homeowners. They started the Professional Homeownership Development (PHD) program, offering courses in budgeting and credit. But first-time homeowners needed even more help. The City of Dayton and NeighborWorks America asked St. Mary to create a HomeOwnership Center that could provide a wider range of professional services and interact with the local lending community.
So Dick and Rose hired Beth Deutscher to create our HomeOwnership Center. The Center grew from just Beth to more than 10 dedicated staff who helped people going through foreclosure, first-time homebuyers and seniors who needed reverse mortgage counseling.
Dick and Rose continued to pray.
The first senior housing project
In 1993, St. Mary Development opened its first Low Income Housing Tax Credit property – Twin Towers Place affordable senior apartments. Dick and Sr. Rose moved their offices into Twin Towers Place. They managed the property and continued to learn about the unique needs of seniors.
They didn’t have a lot of money, so Dick mowed the lawn and did all the landscaping work at Twin Towers Place. One day Dick was wearing a suit and taking some bankers on a tour of the building. One of the residents stopped Dick and said, “You know, you look just the like gardener who works here!”
With Twin Towers Place, Dick and Sr. Rose saw that a senior apartment building could serve as an anchor for a neighborhood and help the entire neighborhood.
Between 1993 and 1998, St. Mary Development helped sponsor 12 new senior apartment communities – but we didn't manage any of them. In 1995, Dick quit his full-time job and began working full-time as St. Mary Development's president.
Focusing on housing
In 1998, Dick and Sr. Rose decided it was time to focus exclusively on housing. They spun off all the social service work they had been doing in the Twin Towers neighborhood. The new organization was called East End Community Services. East End continues to work with the residents of the Twin Towers neighborhood today.
In 1999, St. Mary created Hoover Place in west Dayton, the second senior building managed by us. In 2004, St. Mary created its first lease-to-purchase single-family home project – Jefferson Homes.
An incredible legacy
Up to 2000, Dick and Sr. Rose created 1,480 affordable housing units. Between 2000 and 2013, Dick and Sr. Rose created an additional 1,574 affordable housing units. If you add up all the people living in the homes we’ve created, it adds up to homes for almost 9,000 people. Seniors, families and children – 9,000 people who have a place to sleep each night. 9,000 people who have a place to call home. That's quite a legacy from two people who followed God's call and trusted in God's help.
The legacy continues
In 2013, Dick and Sr. Rose retired after more than 30 amazing years of working together. They turned over the leadership of their ministry to Tim Bete, who had been working closely with them at St. Mary for seven years.
St. Mary continued its focus on creating affordable housing and connecting residents to the services they need. In 2014, St. Mary created a dedicated Resident Services Department called St. Mary Connect, with Service Coordinators who work directly with our residents. We also hired National Church Residences to help manage our properties.
In, 2016 the Homeownership Center branched off from St. Mary Development Corporation and began a new partnership with CountyCorp to further their efforts helping homeowners.
Today, St. Mary is developing new affordable apartment communities in Riverside, Huber Heights and Eaton, as well as many other states. Like Dick and Sr. Rose, we are always looking for new ways to reach out to those in need.