Mention Omaha affordable housing and Habitat for Humanity likely comes to mind. But another player in the market is Holy Name Housing Corporation. Sister Marilyn Ross was the face of that nonprofit for three decades, 27 years as CEO, during which time it invested $65 million into inner-city housing.
A life of service was in the cards for Ross, who grew up the eldest of 11 children in Kansas City, Mo., where she was educated by Sisters of Mercy. A love affair with the order saw her enter the community in 1958, professing first vows in 1961 and final vows in 1966. Following studies at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha and the University of Missouri at Kansas City, she taught high school English for two decades in the Midwest and on the West Coast. She returned to Omaha as recruiting director for the Sisters of Mercy.
By the early 1980s, little single-family housing development was happening in northeast Omaha. She saw Holy Name Housing, formed in 1982 by two parish priests and a parishioner, as a way to improve the quality of life for residents and revive declining neighborhoods. She began as development director in 1983. Under her leadership, the organization transitioned from rehabbing old homes to building new homes for low- to moderate-income clients, eventually acting as its general contractor. Over time, it worked with the federal low-income housing tax-credit program to keep rents affordable with the idea of tenants one day being homeowners.
Ross made homeownership education a requirement for participation.
Her nonprofit’s work in the Monmouth Park, Prospect Hill and Highlander neighborhoods, among others, and on the former St. Richard’s campus revitalized areas otherwise ignored.
Ross was recognized with the Dorothy Day Peacemaker of the Year Award from Pax Christi USA; special mention from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; a tribute from the Omaha YWCA; and the Mother Qualberta Award from the Notre Dame Sisters of Omaha. She’s a Holy Name Hall of Fame inductee.
She’s survived by several siblings.