Aida Segura

A harbor in the storm

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

I did not plan on a career supporting survivors of domestic violence, when I completed my degree in pastoral counseling, but now I could not imagine a more spiritually fulfilling role than the one I have as program director at House of Peace in Waukegan.

House of Peace is one of Catholic Charities’ two transitional homes for those recovering from domestic violence, but it is not a shelter. It is a home that welcomes six families every six months and offers them the space and the resources to heal, empower and sustain themselves.

My colleague, Deborah Hammond, says, “It’s a magical place,” and it is.

We opened in 2011 in a building that had been the rectory for Most Blessed Trinity parish. It was born from an idea that Father Dan Harnett, who was then the parish’s pastor, presented to me.

I started out as a counselor at St. Pius  V Parish in Pilsen, where I soon discovered an unmet need for domestic violence services and ultimately provided them. I left that role to perform mission work in my native Peru and returned to the Chicago area in 2011. It was then that Father Harnett approached me.

He also had spent time in Peru and now saw a need in the Waukegan parish, which includes many poor and immigrant families, for domestic violence support services. He knew of my background and called on me to help him build a supportive community for those coming out of violence.

Community members helped renovate the old rectory into a home for these women and children. A local grocery store allows them to shop for free, a local dentist provides dental care and many other community members support the House of Peace families.

The women who live there also support each other. House of Peace has a staff of six (mostly women who once lived there), but it is community-run. This means the women organize themselves and take turns with cooking, cleaning, childcare and other tasks. This helps restore their decision-making ability.

They have access to counseling, art therapy and other trauma-informed care, as do their children, who also are deeply affected by living in homes that include violence.

Women who live at House of Peace receive assistance in finding jobs, apartments, service providers and rental assistance (another Catholic Charities program). I’m proud to report that not one woman who has come through the program has returned to a relationship with domestic violence.

In addition to the six-month transitional living program, House of Peace offers a support group called Phoenix  open to residents, former residents and women who are seeking resources but remain in their relationships. Hammond noted that many domestic violence programs only offer services to women who have left the home. The Catholic Charities mission is to meet people where they are.

When women decide to attend Phoenix and discover the supportive community that accepts them, they keep coming. Many eventually find the strength to leave their abusers.

What is beautiful about this program is that it reminds us that when we focus on the agency of women, women can really flourish and turn their lives around. I hope the House of Peace approach is replicated in as many places as possible.



  • catholic charities
  • domestic violence