Catholic Workers of the Pacific Northwest

posted by Mike on June 9th, 2005

Here are some excerpts from Keith D. Berger’s University of Portland B.A. thesis “Hearing the Cry of the Poor: The Catholic Worker Communities in Oregon and Washington 1940 to the Present” (April 1992). If I ever get my hands on the original again, I’ll update this entry.

Seattle’s St. Francis House (1940-1946)

James Deady, a seminarian, although understanding the Catholic Worker as a laymen’s movement, began discussions with people to open a Worker in Seattle.

For more than four months, the group remained in the discussion stage, waiting primarily for the permission of the local Bishop.

In late February 1940, a deal for an eleven room place over a store at 1010 1/2 King Street was made for giving the community a base of operations.

Twenty people could be seated at a time in the dining room. Meals, fixed by the cook Mr. King, were a main dish of soup, stew, beans, or macaroni, served with bread and “the finest coffee in the world.” Word of their bread line reached as far as Los Angeles, with one of their guests coming north to try it out.

[Then they broke with the Catholic Worker over pacifism.]

Long hours of work and war activities reduced the time commitment that supporters of the Catholic Workers could meet. Those in need of food were few.

The St. Francis House was given twenty days notice before closure in 1946. The address was changed, but interest faded as many of the active Workers became more interested in politics. The St. Francis Catholic Worker closed.

Portland’s Blanchet House (1952-present)

beginnings as a Catholic Worker House

The Blanchet House of Hospitality remains open today feeding the hungry, among other services, yet has ceased to be affiliated with the Catholic Worker movement, while continuing in the spirit of the Worker and Dorothy Day.

In 1948, Bernie Herrington was elected president of Sigma Pi Upsilon, a fraternity reactivated after its members returned from the Second World War, at the University of Portland. Herrington went on to transform the fraternity from “a beer drinking and good times” organization into a service organization.

Fr. Kennard, after failing to get yet another lease, was walking dejectedly in Old Town when he came across a building at 340 NW Gilson Street with a sign in the window asking $40 a month rent. The building was owned by Tom Johnson, a former bootlegger and crime boss involved with gambling, prostitution, and drugs. Johnson would not have rented the building to the Blanchet Club except that his daughter, who went to Maryhurst College, became his conscience. He rented this former speak-easy to the Catholic Workers.

Feeding the hungry because they were poor, which was what Blanchet House was doing, was considered revolutionary in Portland. The Blanchet House was not popular at first. Because of this, Kevin Collins, the first president of the Blanchet Club, was called out to the University of Portland and asked by a nameless administrator not to mention that they were alumni of the University to the press.

There were two groups in the Blanchet Club, those that wanted the Blanchet House to be a Catholic Worker and those that did not. Shortly after John Little left as director, the Blanchet House ceased to be a Catholic Worker. It continued, and today continues, acts of charity, but not the acts of justice that characterize the Worker.

Portland’s second Catholic Worker (1972-88)

It was Christmas of 1972. Pat and Mufti McNassar had been doing hospitality in their home since 1968 and were beginning discussions with friends about the need for a Catholic Worker presence in Portland. They decided to take the initiative and leadership upon themselves and officially declare their home to be a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality.

They inquired with the local Catholic Church, St. Francis, about using their parish facilities for the hospitality kitchen. The pastor, Fr. Roy Durrand, was not receptive to a soup kitchen idea at that time. Jim Barnhardt, who met Pat during alternative service at the Burnside Cleanup Center, was a member of Centenary Wilbur Methodist Church (located on the Eastside at 9th and Pine), asked the parishioners and pastor, Rev. Harper Richardson, about the potential use of the kitchen facilities by the Catholic Workers. The Centenary Wilbir community welcomed the Catholic Workers.

. . . on rainy Sundays, the numbers would reach and surpass sixty. No matter how many people showed up, they were all served family style. As one observer described it, “I was impressed in the Portland kitchen with the grace with which the guests . . . were served. Food was brought out to the tables (no rainy Blanchet House lines in the cold.”

Ken Hall is a traditional St. Vincent de Paulian and was credited by the Wellses for having said something to the effect that “your politics are the stupidest I’ve heard of, but by God, this is a great kitchen.”

Outside of the hospitality they shared with those in their homes and the Kitchen, a third element strengthened these Catholic Workers: Community. The block was “very much like a village.” They shared with the work of raising some of their own food.

In 1982, the Catholic Worker community broke up in a mini diaspora. The houses that they were renting went up for sale by the owner of “the block” who sought to cash out in five years.

Seattle’s second Catholic Worker (1974-present)

The community privately financed the house, contracting in the name of the Pacem in Terris House of Hospitality, putting $5,000 down and paying $250 a month at 7.5% interest so that the owner could cash out in five years.

In February 1975, their dreams were realized. The Catholic Worker had their “Family Kitchen.” Immediately the Kitchen faced opposition by St. Vincent de Paul with logistical concerns addressed to the pastor of St. James Cathedral, the host of the Family Kitchen.

The Seattle Catholic Worker joined others outside their community in the founding of the Pacific Life Community (PLC) in January 1975.

While the demonstrations were a vocal part of the Seattle Catholic Worker, the work of hospitality and the Kitchen continued. About 300 guests a year were staying with them at Pacem in Terris.

Bremerton’s Bread and Justice (1981-82)

Impressed by the commitment Ground Zero had toward inner conversion, nonviolence, simple living, and protesting against the Trident submarine bases at Bangor, the Reeds chose to settle in Bremerton. Encountering a need for a soup kitchen, Tom and Iris found their means of working for justice.

An incident occurred on February 7, 1982, that perhaps lost what little sympathy was afforded Bread and Justice in the Bremerton community. Prior to this Sunday, Tom Reed had expressed his concern to the pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Fr. David White, about the placement of the American flag in the church. On that day, Boy Scout Sunday, a scout carried the flag into the church. Tom Reed asked the young man to give him the flag. The scout refused. tom Reed took the flag from him and stated to the congregation, “Brothers and sisters, we can choose between the two. We can’t have both nation and God.” He then took the flag out of the sanctuary. Three parishioners chased Tom, took the flag from him, and returned it to the church without further incident.

The house of hospitality and kitchen remained open until September 1982. The Reeds had hoped that some friends would take over Bread and Justice and continue their work, but to no avail. Their reason for closing included the “mixed” reaction to their work for justice and their long time desire to live and serve in Latin America.

Olympia’s Bread and Roses (1982-present)

The origins of Bread and Roses in Olympia comes from two cities, Des Moines, Iowa, and Sheep Ranch, California, and from two then existing Catholic Worker communities.

Both groups, neither knowing the other, decided to move to Olympia to work out their vision together for a new Catholic Worker.

Because of the high rate of turnover and occasional closure of services, some members of the community sought to create a board to maintain continuity. This board, which consisted of six community members, was formed in 1987 to help plan the role of the house.

The board wanted to gain non-profit corporate status.

The board was disbanded within months.

Bread and Roses could either expand their facilities to help the community or they could remain unincorporated.

Bread and Roses incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in the State of Washington as B & R Property Stewardship Association in 1988.

Poulsbo’s Emmanuel House (1983-1989) and the Suquamish Catholic Worker (1989-present)

Poulsbo in Kitsap County, where they chose to settle, was attractive primarily because they could be neighbors to people in a military community.

The Greenwalds considered Emmanuel House to be a nebulous Catholic Worker.

[In 1988] Linda and George were divorced.

In 1989, Linda moved her family to the Port Madison Reservation in Suquamish, Washington.

Tacoma’s Guadalupe House (1989-present)

The G Street Community sought to salvage the Guadalupe House and to resurrect their program. Difficulties remained and the residence vacated the Guadalupe House prior to the arrival of the Catholic Workers in 1989.

Kevin [Coley], Bob [Imholt], and [Fr. Bill Bichsel] moved in and reopened the doors to those in need of housing.

[They got Bethlehem Farm from the Jesuits.]

Though their many service ministries, the Hospitality Kitchen, prison ministry, Bethlehem Farms ministry, Lewis Jones House ministry, community building through the Gene Wick garden, and political activism . . . .

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12 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On September 17, 2005 at 18:10 Rosalie Riegle said:

    Thanks for the great summary.

  2. On December 15, 2005 at 19:55 Keet said:

    I was in Portland last week. I went there on the train. I looking to connect with someone in the Catholic Worker. The only phone number I had said they were disconnected. It was for the people on Farragut Street. I did find the Sisters of the Road storefront cafe. I was impressed with their idea of charging for meals – work, trade, money or barter. Is the Catholic Worker shut down in the Pacific Northwest?

  3. On December 16, 2005 at 10:11 Mike (Worcester) said:

    There is a new CW in Portland, started in the past couple years. I’ll post info when I get home.

  4. On December 19, 2005 at 15:50 Keet said:

    Thanks. There’s kind of a discussion waiting to happen I think. About trying to vision our future. Where we are headed. What’s the plan. Peter Maurin used to do this, the visionary. But regardless…

    This month I have been to Portland and Chicago. In both places I used the on-line CW resources I had and then the local phonebook and in the case of Portland, talking to catholics I knew locally. The phones were all disconnected. And I was unable to reavh anybody.

    I know the future isn’t that important when today we are dying but still how does it look to us? Where we going?

  5. On December 30, 2005 at 14:18 Sadie McNassar said:

    Wow! This was a trip down memory lane…I still miss “the block,” even though it’s been 24 years since we left it. I’m trying to convince my mom to write a memoir to include these experiences. Maybe someday.

  6. On December 31, 2005 at 18:31 Sadie McNassar said:

    Also, it was nagging me all night, but I believe the priest at St. Francis was Don Durand. I can double check with my Mom, but I believe that’s right.

  7. On January 19, 2006 at 16:31 Mike (Worcester) said:

    Here’s a post with contact info for the Portland CW.

  8. On April 22, 2009 at 16:08 Erin Campbell said:

    I would love the contact information of the Catholic Worker houses or farms in or near Seattle. I am looking to volunteer or visit, but am currently out of the country, so email is preferable, but anything would be great.


  9. On November 9, 2009 at 15:31 Steven Garrett said:

    I, too, am seeking out a CW community in Seattle. Perhaps we ought to be discussing either resurrecting the Pacem in Terris (the telephone number listed on the cw site is disconnected); or opening another house, perhaps in or near the University of Washington where a high concentration of street kids congregate?

    I am a member of a small, accidental community residing in one of the cluster homes owned by the University Unitarians, in Wedgwood. I name us an accidental community, given that we were independently placed here by a local medical srvc. provider agency (purposely vague to guard neighbors’ privacy).

  10. On May 31, 2010 at 22:52 Phyllis De Friese said:

    Is there any Catholic Worker group still active in Olympia? This site was the only one on line that I found. I’m interested in volunteering and would like to contact them.

  11. On August 1, 2011 at 22:58 Bruce I. Tenney said:

    Phyllis DeFrieser:

    Yes, depending upon how you define it.

    The community is going through re-organization and refocusing their goal and ministry.

    As one first Catholic volunteers I was acceped into their extend Community Volunteers.

    Give them a call..360-754-4085, They also have a Website…

  12. On February 20, 2017 at 14:43 Ajoe said:

    It was recently announced that Bread and Roses in Olympia is closing for good and selling their property. The article I read was in the Olympian.

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