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Meet Mary Jo

The people on the streets of Minneapolis call her their “street mother.” City officials call her “an extraordinary leader” and an “urban saint.” But Mary Jo Copeland, the founder and director of Sharing and Caring Hands, is not looking for praise. She knows from experience what it is to live in poverty and brokenness, and she is striving to make the world a better place for the poor today. Copeland’s startup of Sharing and Caring is all the more remarkable given her painful past. She grew up in a family where her parents fought constantly and her emotionally disturbed father often beat her mother. Mary Jo was an emotionally deprived and socially dysfunctional child whom other children made fun of because they didn’t understand.

Her self-esteem was almost nonexistent, like that of many other people she helps today. But doing the will of God is Mary Jo’s goal, as well as making a difference in bringing hope to people’s lives and letting them know: they’re not walking alone, and God will always be with them.

Biography

October 23, 1942 – Born in Rochester, Minnesota
June 1960 – Graduated from Holy Angels Academy
April 1961 – Married Dick Copeland, a DeLaSalle graduate and St.Thomas College student
1961-1981 – Had 12 children (6 boys and 6 girls) and was a full-time mother until the youngest child began school

Volunteer & Work History

1981 – 1985 — Volunteered at Catholic Charities; recognized for her efforts with the 11 Who KARE Award.
1985 — Started Sharing & Caring Hands, a volunteer organization with few salaries and no bureaucracy. Mary Jo has never taken a salary for this work; money and donations go directly to the needs of the poor. Sharing & Caring Hands is a vehicle for concerned people to get directly involved in helping meet the needs of the less fortunate of our society.
1995 — Built Mary’s Place, a beautiful $7.5 million transitional housing apartment complex, born out of love, compassion, and concern for women and children in poverty. This building was made possible through private donations alone. It was expanded to 92 units in 2000 at a cost of $6 million. 
1997 — Built new $5 million, 27,000 square-foot Sharing & Caring Hands Drop-In Center that serves the needs of over 1,000 people each day.
1998 — Converted old Sharing & Caring Hands building into a Children’s Activity Center and Teen Center for the children living at Mary’s Place. (In 2015, this building was torn down for the expansion of the 8 new units and teen/children center.)
1998 – Present — Sharing & Caring Hands grew from a small volunteer organization with a $5,000/mo. budget working out of a 2,000 sq. ft. storefront to a large volunteer organization that spends over $500,000/mo. on the needs of over 20,000 people who come through our doors monthly. This work is now being done out of three buildings, worth $19 million, totaling 13,000 sq. ft. located at the edge of downtown Minneapolis.
2015 — Mary Jo again expanded Mary's Place, adding 8 more units for a total of 100 units and a new teen and children center.  Currently, Mary's Place houses over 600 people, most of them children.

Mary Jo is currently the Director of Sharing & Caring Hands and Mary’s Place, working daily with the needs of the poor.

Honors & Awards

1984 & 1987 — Rotary Hope Award
1987 — McKnight Foundation Award
1990 — Person of the Week on NBC’s Nightly News with Peter Jennings
1990 — The Caring Institute’s “One of the Most Caring People in America”
1991 — David W. Preus Award
1991 — Minnesota’s Best Entrepreneur in the Social Responsibility Category
1993 — Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Macalester College
1994 — Norman Vincent Peal Unsung Hero Award
1995 —
Pax Christi Award
1997 — Toastmaster’s International Award
1998 — John A. Ryan Award from University of St. Thomas
1999 — Visit by then Gov. George W. Bush
2000 — Cited in Pres. George W. Bush’s acceptance speech
2000 — Franciscan International Award
2000 — Crosier Award for Outstanding Ministry
2004 — Dominican Award
2012 — Presidential Citizens Award
2015 — Mary Jo private audience with Pope Francis


Featured in the Following

1988 — Catholic Digest
1989 & 2003 — St. Anthony Messenger
1990 — Signs of the Times
1991 — Reader’s Digest; Minnesota Ventures
1992Star Tribune Magazine
1994Good Housekeeping Magazine
1995 & 1996Parade Magazine
1995Positive Living “Minnesota’s Mother Theresa”
1996Farm Industry News; Youth Alive
1999People Magazine
2000Our Sunday Visitor
2001Liguorian; Philanthropy Today
2002New York Times

Books

Peterson, M. (2002) Great Love: The Story of Mary Jo Copeland. Ohio: Quixote Publications.
Sullivan, N. (2003) My Mondays with Mary Jo Copeland. Missouri: Liguori Publications.
Nelson, M. (2004) Saving Body & Soul: The Mission of Mary Jo Copeland.
Shaw Books, a division of Random House.
Hinck, M. (2013) Great Love: The Story of Mary Jo Copeland. Ohio: Quixote Publications

  • “Do something beautiful for God and make a difference in the lives of others.”
  • "Love and compassion are the secret to world peace."
  • "What is success? To love one another as God has loved us."
  • "Kindness is a conversion. Never forget that."
  • "Great leaders are great servants. Go serve God, serve family, serve your community."
  • "You will never fulfill the Scriptures (you read) until you are willing to live them."
  • "Your smile and an outstretched hand is the beginning of a miracle in the unspoken need of another's heart."
  • "Look after your feet, they must carry you a long way in this world and then all the way to the kingdom of God."
  • "Hold fast, go forward... fear nothing."
  • "Evil flourishes when good people don't speak."
  • "When someone is drowning, you don't throw them a life preserver, you get into the water with them."
  • "In the evening of our lives, each one of us will be judged on one little thing... love, love, love... until it hurts."
  • "We are responsible for the effort, not the outcome."
  • "Joy is the net of love in which we catch souls."
  • "Don't pray too long, you'll get it wrong; we must go from prayer to action."
  • "We are called to be channels of God's peace, instruments of His love."

Order Your Copy of Mary Jo’s Book, Great Love, Today!

News

Mary Jo In the News
A special TV report from award-winning reporter Boyd Huppert this Easter Sunday on KARE 11 at 10 p.m. will tell Mary Jo’s story and what’s in store for the next 30 years… Read More 

PAX Christi 4-1-14
The Mary Jo Copeland biography, GREAT LOVE by Michelle Peterson Hinck, reads like a true rags-to-riches story. Read More 

Cyrus Webb Interview 01-30-14
Watch the interview conducted by Cyrus Webb. Read More Pioneer Press 9-05-13 Caryn Sullivan: From Mary Jo Copeland’s Great Difficulties, Great Love. Read More