I was thrilled if a little shy in meeting Rosalie Riegle, a prominent writer and activist in the Catholic Worker movement. She shared not only a meal with us, but a lot of practical advice and illuminating stories. I loved how much she had to share about Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the CW movement. But I especially appreciate that it is amazing people like her who have kept the movement growing and thriving to the present day.
Some of our community members were able to see her speak at Xavier University this week. In a presentation entitled “Walking with Dorothy Day: The Catholic Worker Story”, she highlighted moments from Dorothy Day’s biography that have wisdom for the movement today. The presentation touched on Dorothy’s relationship to the church, her view of the poor, and her understanding of personalism in action. Yet Rosalie spoke not just as an academic but first as a Catholic Worker, since she is the co-founder of a Catholic Worker community in Saginaw, Michigan not unlike Lydia’s House. She served there for 10 years, and it was during this time that she also published some of her four books about the Catholic Worker movement, the peace movement, and faith in action.
It was even better having the chance to sit down with her and have her experience our home. Here I’ll note that while I was in the discernment process of volunteering at Lydia’s House, I realized that most of my knowledge of the CW movement was either too broad and academic, or too limited by the small number of CW houses in which I’ve actually spent a good amount of time. Her article “The Catholic Worker in 2014: An Appreciation” was one of the pieces I read that gave me a good idea of the beautiful variety that exists within the movement today. So she had already made an impression on me. Reading her books can teach us a lot about how we want to proceed at Lydia’s House, but there is something transformative about sitting down in person to absorb the wisdom of someone who has been doing something much longer than you have. Her willingness to share her many stories and answer our many questions with grace is truly a blessing for us, and amazing considering the amount of time she spends answering the questions of other workers in other cities on her travels.Since the Catholic Worker movement is non-hierarchical, it is imperative that these gatherings, stories, and bits of wisdom are passed from person to person with love. We learn not only from our own mistakes and successes, but from the experiences of those who work differently than we do.
I am left with the impression that I have become involved in a community that consists of not only one house in one neighborhood, but of a web of people all over the world who are struggling and loving and engaging their own neighborhoods and giving one another insight into how to engage theirs. I am equal parts exhausted in knowing how much I have to learn and excited knowing how much I can still do.
Written by Rachel Kohl, Associate Volunteer at Lydia’s House