Sister Margaret Anne Merritt of the Dominican order in Amityville was a neighborhood nun — buying into the pioneering Nehemiah homes project in the impoverished East New York section of Brooklyn in 1996.
She and Sister Sheila Buhse convinced their superiors that it would be cheaper to buy one of the newly constructed affordable homes, $59,000 at the time, than paying rent for an apartment.
“You should have seen it the day we moved in,” Buhse said. “There were 15 moving vans on the block at once.”
“People thought, ‘If white nuns are living there, it must the OK,’ ” Buhse said Wednesday as she talked about Merritt, who died Aug. 16 at age 79.
Merritt had been a teacher, school principal, fundraiser for scholarship programs and counselor to anyone who needed help.
“She was an ardent New York Yankees fan. She watched every game that was on TV, if she was home. I was a Mets fan, so you can imagine the dialogue.
“But whenever the phone rang, she was out the door, helping whoever needed help,” Buhse said.
Born in Brooklyn on March 26, 1937, to Martin and Evelyn Merritt, she joined the Dominican Sisters in 1955, according to biographical information provided by her order.
She began training for the sisterhood at Queens of the Rosary in Amityville on Aug. 6, 1956, and took her vows Aug. 8, 1957.
She began her teaching career at our Lady of Solace in Coney Island and later was principal of Incarnation School in Queens Village. She also taught at Cure of Ars in Merrick, Little Flower in Montauk Beach, St. Joseph Patron in Brooklyn and Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians in Woodside.
She became active in East Brooklyn Congregations, a coalition of churches and community leaders that became a thorn in the side of city officials as the activists campaigned for affordable housing and improvement in low-income areas.
“They hired the Industrial Areas Foundation, which brought in two leaders who trained them on how to advocate,” Buhse said. “You don’t go to a politician and say, ‘Please.’ You don’t go hat-in-hand.”
When the church group could not get police to close down a neighborhood crack house operating out of a vacant storefront, the group brought together 400 people who stood in front of the local precinct at the shift change so officers could not get into their cars, she said.
The crack house was raided several times and the city demolished the storefront, she said.
Merritt is survived by her sister, Clare Schultis of upstate Hopewell Junction.
Services for Merritt took place Aug. 20 in the St. Albert Chapel of the Motherhouse in Amityville, followed by burial in the order’s cemetery.