Pharr said that through grant programs, the university has been able to provide academic tutoring, counseling, advising, emergency loans, and food assistance to single mothers.
"This is important because it provides a place for single mothers to get an education in a safe environment. As a small Catholic institution, we provide tremendous resources to our students," she said.
"I think at this institution, the potential to provide an environment where these women can be successful when they might not be living out in the community commuting, trying to address all of those other issues."
Pharr said the housing project has been in the development over the past couple years as a response to the order's declining number of nuns and an increase in retired sisters. When the project was initially under development, she said the order was looking at opening the space to non-religious elderly people.
Pharr had the idea to include single mothers.
Many of the nuns who will live on campus now live in convents elsewhere. Since many sisters had been involved with the school, Pharr said they are excited to come back to campus. She noted the importance the nuns' presence will have on student life, bringing a light to the mothers, students, and to the sisters themselves.
"I think having the sisters in proximity to students and children will allow them to really stay young and be excited about the kinds of things they see happening on campus. It'll be a short walk over to seminars. They can take classes; they can participate in events on campus much easier," Pharr said.
The campus is planning for both serendipitous and planned interactions among the students, families, and nuns, Pharr said. The sisters, besides running into students on campus more, will be able to share meals in the dining room with both students and children. She also said the clinic and day-care center will become a learning opportunity.
"We also have what we call planned interactions. So in other words, intergenerational learning opportunities. We hope that the early childhood education center [will] be a lab school, which will allow for our education majors to actually learn and participate in early childhood education."
"In addition, we have programs in occupational therapy and nursing and social work and numerous others where we will have onsite clinical opportunities and internships so that the students can learn and be in direct connection with the sisters and the seniors."
Pharr emphasized the value of the project - which will help mothers, campus life, and the nuns - noting that the project is deeply tied to the beliefs of the sisters.
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"This is a great mission fit. The School Sisters of Notre Dame, part of their charism has always been to care for the needs of women and children. Mount Mary, in a similar manner, our vision statement says that we educate women to transform the world," Pharr told CNA.
"To me, this is just one more way in which we can continue to empower women at all ages, whether they're sisters, whether they're seniors, whether they're children or students."