Former Oblate Residence Now a Care Facility Dedicated to Fr. Terry O’Connell, OMI

Lowell, MA

By Will Shaw with thanks to Fr. Mike Amesse, OMI

The Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley cuts the ceremonial ribbon opening O’Connell House (Photo by Ann Antes, courtesy of Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski)
The front door of the former Garin Residence is at the center of this photo

For many years Oblates around Lowell, MA were housed at the Andre Garin residence adjacent to the Shrine of St Joseph the Worker. As the number of Oblates decreased over the years, the residence was no longer needed, and the Oblates began to look for a suitable buyer for the historic property. Happily, the new owner is a ministry very much in tune with the Oblate Charism. In fact, the new home, according to Oblate Father Mike Amesse, “…came from the mind and heart of Fr. Terry O’Connell,” Fr. O’Connell, who died in 2021, was the former pastor of the Shrine of St. Joseph the Worker.

Fr. Terry O’Connell, OMI

Some years ago, Fr. O’Connell was approached by Mrs. Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski, a Critical Care RN with an M.A. in Theology and Bioethics for spiritual direction. In addition to many other activities, she is a Delegate and Special Advisor to the Ambassador on Human Trafficking for the Order of Malta Mission to the United Nations. They developed a strong relationship based on a common interest in issues of life and chastity. Active in the Pure in Heart Apostolate, Mrs. Rusckowski helped Fr. O’Connell begin the ministry in Lowell. One of their shared dreams was to open a safe house for women with infants rescued from human trafficking. Now, two years after Fr. O’Connell’s passing, Mrs. Rusckowski has brought that dream to fruition by turning the former Garin residence into the O’Connell House, a place which will provide comprehensive care for trafficked women with children, or who may be pregnant.         

Mrs. Rusckowski and her husband, Steven, purchased and oversaw the extensive renovation of the residence to re-purpose the building for its new role as a safe house and comprehensive care facility for trafficked women and children. A total of 13 rooms, each with a bath, are available to clients, with two rooms remaining, one for housing 24/7 Sister caregivers, and a second to be used for counseling / consultive services.

Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski

The facility is staffed by a group of Passionist Sisters of St. Paul of the Cross from Nigeria. The O’Connell House will operate under the 24hr Sister Care model initiated by the Vatican in 2019 to train Catholic Sisters to care for trafficked women. The 24hr Sister caregivers at O’Connell House are trained in trauma-informed person-centered care that helps to make the women feel safe and promotes their independence and dignity. The Sisters will receive a monthly stipend during their 3–5-year commitment to the O’Connell House.    

Mrs. Rusckowski recalled, “As the facility neared completion, Fr. Michael Amesse, said, ‘You might consider naming this the O’Connell House’ which I thought was a beautiful idea! So, we made a beautiful picture of Fr. Terry and put a dedication plaque on it in honor of his vision to provide a place for the caring of the souls and restoring the dignity of women who have been trafficked.”        

On September 13, 2023, the O’Connell House held a dedication-ribbon cutting and blessing of the new facility with Cardinal Archbishop Sean O’Malley, OFM, Cap, GCIH cutting the ribbon, and Bishop Robert Hennessey who blessed each of the rooms. In addition, Patrick O’Connell, brother of the late Fr. Terry, was on hand to speak at the reception that followed the ceremonies.

At the reception after the blessing, (L-R) Patrick O’Connell (brother of Fr. Terry O’Connell) Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski, Steven Rusckowski with the photo of Fr. O’Connell which will hang at O’Connell House (Photo by Ann Antes, courtesy of Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski)

Having completed the herculean task of buying, renovating, and staffing the O’Connell House, Mrs. Rusckowski’s work is far from over. “Now we’re putting on the finishing touches: we’re looking for a clinical program manager, who would be a licensed social worker, or a nurse with experience in mental health in the group home arena, and then finishing up the policies and procedures. Of course, I need to raise some more money, but I believe God is there helping us in every way possible.”

The O’Connell House has partnered with many organizations to meet the ongoing needs of providing care for trafficked women including: Collegia Catholic Boston Funding Corp., and a coalition of local crisis pregnancy centers, health care systems, Global Strategic Operatives, Homeland Security, and the FBI to identify victims and provide direct services to them.