When an order of nuns and members of the Junior League squared off against a Silicon Valley developer a decade ago it made national news. The nuns won. Then "Sister T" went to work.
You would never know just by looking at it, but the foundation of the building at 1760 Bay Road in East Palo Alto is not made of concrete.
Or any type of stone.
No, the true rock upon which the two-story, thirty-unit, half-block-long apartment complex stands is a 76-year-old Daughter of Charity people around here call "Sister T."
It was 16 years ago that Sister Trinitas Hernandez rented out apartment number 24 (first one on the right inside the front gate) of the Carriage Manor complex, and transformed it from a one-bedroom to an English classroom.
"It's a wonderful ministry," says Sister T.
In the years that have followed, Sister T has taught English to hundreds of neighborhood men and women in what she named the Rosalie Rendu Center. In the process, Sister T has helped to change the entire apartment complex for the better.
Just how she did that, was national news about a decade ago.
When Sister T first arrived at Carriage Manor, the complex was in sad shape. "It was terrible," Sister T says, recalling how the courtyard at the center of complex would flood after each rain.
Still, it was a place where low-income families could afford to live on the ever-more-expensive Peninsula. So when a developer purchased the property with a plan to gentrify it and began evicting tenants, Sister T's order, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, teamed up with local members of the Junior League to buy the complex back. The needed to raise more than five million dollars to do it. And they did.
The battle between the two sides was featured in a story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. "It was a big deal when I think about it," Sister T says. "Probably bigger than I ever thought it was."
Since buying the building, the Daughters of Charity have managed to renovate the complex into a beautiful-looking, family-friendly oasis while still keeping it affordable for low-income families.
Those who know what the complex used to be like are impressed with the turn-around and give much of the credit to the steady, guiding hand of Sister T. "I would say she is the matriarch for all of us," say Carrie DuBois, one of the Junior Leaguers who lead the effort to buy Carriage Manor. "I have learned so much from her."
For her part, Sister T, is very modest about the role she has played in housing, and educating, so many people. "I've walked with the people. I've been there for them. That's what you can do."