In 1988 Sr. Margaret McKenna, Ph.D. and Medical Mission Sister, moved into central North Philadelphia exploring a spirituality of nonviolence and what Liberation Theologians refer to as the “preferential option for the poor.” She soon discovered that drug addiction was at the root of many of issues plaguing the neighborhood. It is estimated that nearly 70% of the residents of North Philly struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction—which is both a symptom and a cause of a vast network of interconnected social problems that include poverty, theft, physical abuse, broken families and substandard housing and widespread homelessness (an injustice that wreaks of irony in a neighborhood where more than half of the houses remain abandoned).
Inspired by Rev. Henry T. Wells’ grassroots recovery program One Day at a Time (ODAAT), Sr. Margaret began educating herself about recovery and participating in the anti-drug and anti-violence activities of ODAAT. In 1989 she founded New Jerusalem Laura (NJL) as the umbrella non-profit for the New Jerusalem Now recovery community. Though she enjoyed a momentary retirement in the fall of 2008, Sr. Margaret was again required to serve as the non-profit’s Executive Director but is committed to the process of transferring the responsibilities of NJL’s daily operation to a staff largely comprised of recovering people. Even in this season of transition, she remains a spiritual mentor within the community and continues to lead the community’s daily gathering of spiritual study and reflection.