By Mary Ellen Mitchell
If you’ve ever looked closely at our publications, you’ll see that we offer “Hospitality in the Catholic Worker Tradition.” The Catholic Worker is a model that Meridith and I drew inspiration from in our young years of formation when we volunteered at the Open Door Catholic Worker Community in Atlanta, Georgia, serving grits and boiled eggs to folks in their breakfast soup kitchen. Meridith went on to live with this community for several years as a resident volunteer.
Different than a typical non-profit, Catholic Worker houses are typically founded by a small group or community of faithful people who commit themselves to living and working for the ministry typically in a “main house” where the works of mercy happen or nearby in an extended community of additional houses. Homeless guests often live with volunteers. Most leadership is lay. Catholic Workers often don’t get paid for their work or only take stipends, balance work and prayer, engage in a larger critique of consumption war and violence, publish regular newspapers or newsletters that include commentary on social justice and social change, and do direct work with the very poor and homeless while also protesting the conditions that create homelessness.
The unofficial byline of the movement is “Our vision is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day, is currently being considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church. She was known for saying about the problems of the world, “The only solution is love” and advocated relationship and community as the ultimate salve for most of what ails us. She spent many months in jail for protesting war and nuclear weapons while also living and community and helping others start houses around the United States. Her original house, opened in 1933, is still in operation in New York City.
The Catholic Worker is less formal network and more spiritual network. Many houses die with their founders and that’s ok, because the spirit is what matters, not the institution. There’s no main office or agreement we signed to affiliate. We do have regional gatherings and Lydia’s House faithfully attends the Ohio River Valley Catholic Worker and Christian Community gathering in Bloomington Indiana each May. Let us know if you’d like to go!
We also make it a point to visit one another. Meridith stays in close contact with her friends from the Open Door, now based out of Baltimore Maryland. We have made many trips to visit our friends (and vice versa) at the Bloomington Catholic Worker/ Christian Radical, when we started Lydia’s House the St. Francis/ St. Joseph Catholic Worker in Over the Rhine offered us a generous donation for renovations, and during my sabbatical I took students to visit the Albuquerque Catholic Worker, which focuses work on helping migrants from Mexico and Central America.
Over Holy Week this year I took Sam to visit the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and we had a great time! This house has been in continuous operation since 1970 and got its initial energy protesting the Vietnam War. They offer in house hospitality and hospice care to older folks who were formerly homeless, run a soup kitchen on skid row where they serve 700 (!) meals a day 4 times a week, and regularly participate in protests to improve labor conditions for hospitality workers in Los Angeles and to campaign for more affordable housing for the nearly 100,000 street homeless in greater LA. It was great to meet them and share life with them for a week.
The world could use more Catholic Worker Houses. If you’re interested in the movement, volunteer opportunities at other houses, or starting a house, I’d be happy to talk to you more. By the way, not all Catholic Workers are Catholic… the Open Door was started by Presbyterian pastors!