Miracle at Johnston Square

The Martin de Porres Center serves as an inspiring model of what we can all do to provide better housing for our citizens.  This St. Ambrose project converted a former school building into modern apartments for twelve families in 1980.  The project “confirmed our faith in the unlimited potential of human effort and cooperation.” 1

Long a depressed area, the Johnston Square community was in desperate need of affordable family housing. We worked closely with members of the community and came up with the idea to renovate the nearby Martin de Porres School, a 130-year-old building that had been closed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1978. After being approached with our plan to renovate the school the Archdiocese agreed to donate the building.

Starting with a successful bake sale sponsored by the Johnston Square community, we launched a campaign to raise money for the enormous construction costs.  We received substantial financial support from the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, the federal government, and USF&G Insurance, and many other partners.

Employing more than 25 local Johnston Square residents, construction crews completed the renovations in nine months. Because of the gracious help and cooperation of all these concerns, twelve families, selected by representatives from the community, moved into the new Martin de Porres Center in February of 1982.

“The Martin de Porres conversion is an excellent example of what can be achieved by cooperative efforts involving the community, government, the church, and private industry. Under the creative and dedicated leadership of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a vacant building that had traditionally served the community has been recycled to provide much needed housing for the East Baltimore community. Baltimore can be proud of the Center’s accomplishments.”      -Former Mayor Wiliam Donald Schaefer

Click on the photos below to see the construction process.

1 Quote from St. Ambrose pamphlet on Martin de Porres transformation

Women Religious, Investments for Good

Organizations like St. Ambrose can do little without the support of individuals and other partnering organizations. With their help we are able to build a stronger network of services and resources for our communities.  Religious organizations are one group of supporters who helped St. Ambrose during our early years, and still do today through impact investing.

Early in the 1970s congregations of Catholic Nuns, more commonly known today as Women Religious, began a trend of investing in communities using loans to create a more direct and significant effect on social justice causes. It was a whole new way of operating for many congregations. As described in a Shelterforce article by Dee Walsh, “The money they invested was what they would rely on to care for their sustenance and retirement. It was a big, risky step, but they embraced the challenge and have done amazingly well, with no regrets, few losses, and a tremendous amount of positive change along the way.”

These religious loans showed a tremendous amount of trust and commitment to the causes they were supporting, and they had an incredible impact. In addition to the substantial amount of loans and direct investments they have given to organizations, Women Religious strongly influenced the growth of the Community Development Financial Institutions. In fact many of the CDFIs today got their start from congregations of Women Religious.

One of the earliest examples of this investing came from the Adrian Dominican Sisters. They had become increasingly aware of redlining practices and in 1978 established an alternative investment loan fund.  The loans allowed the Sisters to develop stronger relationships with the organizations as opposed to giving grants.  St. Ambrose is just one of the recipients of the over 500 loans distributed by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

Other religious lenders who have supported St. Ambrose include Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and several others. Their funds have made a significant impact on our ability to work in Baltimore.

For more on Women Religious and their innovative funding methods, check out the Shelterforce article!

Nun Funds: The Original Impact Investors

The Maryland Housing Fund: 1971

The creation of the Maryland Housing Fund represents one of the first big victories for St. Ambrose in its early years.

“The picketing of the savings and loans was one of the best things we’ve done.  It led to the creation of the Maryland Housing Fund.  It was probably the most creative things we’ve done in our history.  Joe Delclos and Frank Fischer joined us at that time in the mid 70s.  We moved our office from York Road to our current location.  Banks were nervous about making loans to our families because of the condition of our houses.  Some of the houses needed roof and furnace repairs, which could be expensive for a family that didn’t have much money.  We went to the Maryland Housing Fund and asked them if they would let us put a new roof and furnace on our houses and the would still insure the houses for the increased value.  We got $100,000 from the Abell Foundation to start our home improvement department.  With this we were able to help about 20 families.”

-Vinnie Quayle

Today the fund still works to insure mortgage loans and assists State citizens  to secure housing. The Fund uses a variety of innovative mortgage insurance programs to stimulate the flow of private investment capital into Maryland

Who Was Saint Ambrose?

December 7th is the Feast Day of Saint Ambrose.  It is celebrated in Milan, where Aurelius Ambrosius served as a Governor who earned popularity among his subjects through his gentle spirit.  As an inspirational namesake, we wanted to celebrate Saint Ambrose Day and share a little about this Patron Saint of Beekeepers, Beggars and Learners.

Aurelius Ambrosius was one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He spent most of his time with his people, who sought him out for consolation and hope.  He believed that generosity to the poor was a repayment of God’s resources of which everyone was entitled equally.

When the current Bishop passed away, Ambrosius was so well loved that there was a public outcry for the Church to appoint him Bishop.  Ambrosius was so humble that he went into hiding to avoid the appointment.  He was forced to become Bishop when the current Emperor threatened to punish anyone who gave him shelter.  Upon his appointment, Ambrosius gave all of his money and land to the poor.  He served as Bishop of Milan for the next 23 years.

His teachings make him a fitting role model for our organization.  Like Saint Ambrose we strive to help the under-served and assist low-income families. And as explained in our tagline “The temple stands unfinished until all are housed in dignity,” we believe everyone deserves the resources that enable them to grow, thrive and build bright futures.

*Information on Saint Ambrose provided by Ms. Marian Ervin, St. Ambrose Staff


“While all our programs have merit, they are perhaps best explained through the experiences of the people who know us best.  In every regard, our clients are remarkable people. Each is a special story waiting to be told.

Look at their faces. Hear their words. It is their faith that gives us the faith to fulfill our work. If we can continue to create homecomings for people like those you’re about to meet, we will have done our job well. And, with your help, we will do even more– for our neighbors and for our city.”

-From St. Ambrose’s 25th Anniversary endowment campaign book


It’s hard to believe we are half way through our 50 stories!  For our 25th story, we wanted to take a look back at St. Ambrose’s 25th anniversary.  While a lot has changed, our clients are still as great as ever.  They remain the cornerstone of our faith for this work. Below are stories from some of our clients 25 years ago. We hope you enjoy their stories as much as we do.




The early years according to Vinnie Quayle

St. Ambrose founder Vinnie Quayle discusses how St. Ambrose got it’s start. “We’re going to teach individual families how to buy houses and how to improve their housing situation and we’re going to [work] on the larger issues with the institutions that could affect the real change.”