Worcester Catholic Worker community celebrates 30 years on Mason Street
Today we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Saints Francis and Thérèse Catholic Worker community.
Folks from far and wide packed the backyard at 52 Mason Street tonight for a mass marking the 30th anniversary of the Saints Francis and Thérèse Catholic Worker community. Mass was celebrated by Father Madden from St. John’s.
It was fantastic to see so many Central Massachusetts lay Catholic communities represented, as well as so many people from other communities of faith and action.
- Saints Francis and Thérèse: The first 20 years
- 25 years on Mason St
- Brian Goslow on Worcester’s Catholic Worker community
- Catholic Free Press: Worcester Catholic Worker House celebrates 30 years
Mason Street Musings
by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy
In preparation for our 30th anniversary celebration, I went through all 179 past issues of The Catholic Radical as well as 65 binders of articles, leaflets, and letters. What struck me most is the amazing number of people who have come in contact with our small Catholic Worker community. Literally hundreds of individuals have volunteered here and well over two thousand have been guests. Hundreds of vigils, marches, and other peace campaigns have been organized to oppose the blood lust of American presidents, arms manufacturers, foreign leaders, and other secular and religious apologists for taking lives. The past and present members of our community have been tried, jailed, and endangered here in the US as well as in various war zones. We have hosted speakers, Masses, prayers, and gatherings for many hundreds, including the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Catholic Worker Movement. We have bitten off so much more than we could reasonably chew that it becomes obvious there must be a living God helping us out. There certainly have been an enormous number of generous individuals who have kept us afloat.
But anniversaries are not just good times to look back, but also to take stock and look forward. While daily requests make it abundantly clear that there is still a need for us to offer shelter, we increasingly find ourselves in a smaller and grayer group at peace vigils. Most local activists rolled up their banners when Barack Obama was elected and did not unroll them despite the fact that he never stopped killing people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Younger people come for service projects, but do not seem overly concerned about war, nuclear weapons, abortion, or the death penalty. Perhaps they have become inured to violence by the media. We took hope from their enthusiasm for the Occupy Wall Street, Stop the XL Pipeline, and the Black Lives Matter movements, as well as the campaign of Bernie Sanders, but there seems to be little appetite for confronting endless war.
When I read Dorothy Day, though, I see how she confronted the vagaries of public opinion, which sometimes lauded her as a saint and at other moments derided her as irrelevant or hopelessly nostalgic. She once said that a commentator described the Catholic Worker in the early 1960’s as “lingering on.” But, as Peter Maurin knew so well, the fantastically good news of the Gospel leaps into popular imagination again and again when anyone takes it seriously. As he so rightly reminded us, moaning about what others aren’t doing is a poor substitute for doing what is right ourselves.
So, here we go trying to live out with joy and hope a message so old that it looks new. So many of you magnify both emotions for us. At this moment, we have a negative bank balance, multiple projects that need funds, and no plan to obtain them. After thirty years, we are as poor as we were when we began. Our economics are a slap in the face of the American dream and, to many, a sure recipe for disaster. “How in the world will you survive in old age?” they ask, but such concerns did not overly trouble Dorothy Day and the saints she invoked for God’s help. As Saint Teresa of Avila said so well, “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing affright you.” And so, please come celebrate with us, confident that the good God will provide whatever we need to accomplish whatever needs to be done.
As it says on Dorothy Day’s gravestone, we should begin and end every day with a “Deo gratias” (Thanks be to God)!
Yes! I am a Radical
by Peter Maurin
To be radically right
is to go to the roots
by fostering a society
based on creed,
and gentle personalism.
To foster a society
based on creed
instead of greed,
on systematic unselfishness
instead of systematic selfishness,
on gentle personalism
instead of rugged individualism,
is to create a new society
within the shell of the old.
Who We Are
by Sarah Jeglosky
Editor’s Note: This article appeared on the cover of the first edition of The Catholic Radical in August 1986. On the Feast of Saint Thérèse in 1988, Sarah married Paul Giaimo, a good-hearted Catholic Worker who went on to become an English professor. They had two children. Sadly, Paul died in 2012. Sarah is studying now to become a nurse.
We are the Saint Francis and Saint Thérèse Catholic Worker Community. We are lay Catholics living in Worcester, inspired by the 52-year-old Catholic Worker Movement.
We have chosen the title Catholic Radical for our paper because radical means, “…proceeding from the root… original; fundamental; reaching to the center or ultimate source.” Our labor will be to explore the roots of our faith with a view to becoming hearers and doers of the Word of God. This is a radical way of life: what one does is what one is. We pray to be animated in everything that we do, no matter how small, by the truth of the Gospels. The lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux are strong influences upon us. We are moved to gratitude for all of God’s gifts by Saint Francis’ embrace of voluntary poverty. We are moved to humility by Saint Thérèse’s magnification of God in the ordinariness of her life.
Our roots run deep and have spread wide through the years. The Catholic Worker Movement originated when two people met in 1932. Peter Maurin was a philosopher of French peasant stock. He had a very literal acceptance of “if anyone needs food or drink, feed them.” Dorothy Day, recently converted to Catholicism, sought after the Church of the immigrants, the poor, and ways in which she might serve the Church. Between the two was conceived a relatively simple three-point program: houses of hospitality for the works of mercy, round table discussions for “clarification of thought,” and “agronomic universities,” where “scholars could become workers and workers could become scholars.” Soon, Dorothy and Peter were publishing a newspaper that expressed solidarity with the workers and an examination of the social system from a Gospel perspective. Their audience grew quickly. Before long, a staff of volunteers began to come together around them. Within two years, circulation of the paper grew from the initial 2,500 to a pressing of 150,000 copies.
By 1936, hundreds of homeless men and women were coming to the doors of the small storefront on Charles Street in New York City for food and shelter. As Dorothy would later say, “It just happened.” In just ten years, thirty houses of hospitality sprouted up across the country. They were characterized by an assemblage of diverse individuals, all bringing their gifts “just as they are” to the work. World War II aroused an insistence from the Workers that the works of mercy could not be separated from the works of peace. Dorothy stated firmly and simply, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). She was arrested several times for refusing to cooperate with New York City’s compulsory civil defense drills. The drills ended after 1961, when an annual protest attracted a crowd of thousands to City Hall Park. Her radical adoption of the Gospels won over more and more seekers of truth and ignited courage within many who desired a more profound expression of their faith.
Peter Maurin died in 1949 and Dorothy Day died in 1980; yet the spirit that was released by their convergence is very much alive today. As Maurin states so eloquently in his Easy Essay “The Right Word,” “Sound principles are not new, they’re very old; they are as old as eternity. The thing to do is to restate the ever new principles in the vernacular of the [person] on the street. The [person] on the street will do what the intellectual has faith to do; that is to say, do something about it.”
Pictured: The founding members of the SS. Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker. Back row: Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, Justin Duffy, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy. Front row: Carl Siciliano, Sarah Jeglosky, Dan Ethier.
Catholic Worker Quotes
Editor’s Note: The following quotes are from guests, volunteers, writers, neighbors, and children who have crossed the threshold of Saints Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker over the past 30 years.
I don’t want to play those materialistic high notes.
You know the Three Stooges used Albert Einstein as a consultant for their shows.
God loves us too dearly to let us get fat and begin to take providence for granted.
Whenever I am weary and beset with crosses that seem too much to bear, I want to remember the lesson of my daughter’s birth: new life often comes after travail.
It seems the details of life take longer than I expected and Time and I are never in step. I cannot pin her by my side. I sigh with relief when I read that a thousand years are like a day in God’s eyes. That is a schedule I think I could keep.
When asked to pick up his books and blocks, four-year-old Justin said, “Dad, I’m not an octopus.”
I felt like I was being swept along by a mighty river which took me this way and that without ever consulting me as to the direction I’d like my day to go. That feeling is irksome at times and adventuresome at others. Tonight I feel like the river has halted in a calm little pool where things drift gently in a small circle.
While watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” three-year-old Grace asked, “Why is the Grinch green? Why is he so mean to his dog? Why does he want to stop Christmas? Why does he hate singing?”
A note from “Your friends in NYC” included four dollar bills and read, “This is all we have at the moment, but rest assured, once we get, you will have.”
Beth: When I was a kid they had good desserts at school like Jello, cookies, and cake with whipped cream on top. Now they have awful stuff.
Claire: What do they have now?
Last week, we took an overnight trip. The house remained unlocked as it always does whether we are home or away. When we returned, we found a glorious spray of roses just outside the kitchen door. Most of us are raised to believe that locks will protect us from bad people and circumstances, but locks will keep out the good and the beautiful as well.
Claire answered an early morning knock at the door and found a little boy who said, “I had a nightmare that you moved away.”
Dan Lawrence asked four-year-old Grace, “Do you know the name Dorothy Day?” “Sure,” she replied, “I know it from the movie.” “What movie?”
Scott asked. “The Wizard of Oz,” she replied. Seven-year-old Justin laughed, so Scott asked, “Do you know who Dorothy Day was?” and Justin said, “She was a person who was into drugs, and when she got over that she helped a lot of people.”
These people we shelter sometimes anger me, but just as often they put me to shame. I should live so long that I could be so holy as some of our guests and neighbors.
I’m trying to start a new lawyers guild of America. We mind our own business and keep our hands to ourselves. It’s a new innovation.
Claire: So, Mike, how long did you live in Florida?
Mike: I only vacationed there.
Scott: How long was your vacation?
Mike: A year and five months.
The essence of the Catholic Worker movement’s vision is small-scale hospitality practiced with a Christ Room.
The love-power, energy, and grace emanating from each person is within first, then distributed. How fast it works, how far it goes, the amount given is mysterious, unclear…. Invisibly, materially, or in obscurity and humility, God’s love bursts forth from every God-child into fruition.
A pregnant runaway named Monica saw our infant son Aiden and said, “He’s so little. Why, in Connecticut the babies are much bigger. At eight months, Connecticut babies drink from a cup by themselves and can walk.”
This is the first vegetarian meal I’ve ever had, and it wasn’t half as terrible as I expected.
Perhaps society is too narrow in its definition of normality.
The seven sober days I have had in this house should go down in The Guinness Book of World Records…. The Catholic Worker is sort of like a hippie commune, but they don’t do drugs or smoke.
Everything I know about American history says that when ordinary citizens act on the basis of conscience, when there is terrible injustice and violence, that they can make a difference.
I live in a country where my government spends $10,000 a second on the military. I also live in a neighborhood where the little boy across the street goes to bed hungry more often than not.
Ever since I was twelve-years-old, I have been trying to be a human. I mean how do you do it?
My boyfriend tried to crack my skull open with a sledgehammer…. At seventeen, other girls are getting ready for the prom, and I’m going out on the street.
Dave: Would you jump off a cliff if your father told you to?
Aiden: If it was fun, I would.
Message left on Dan Lawrence’s answering machine: “This is Jane at the Halloween store. We need the remote control for the flying saucer.”
After looking at Scott’s painting of the Virgin Mary, Brenna Cussen asked, “Who is it? Saint Francis? All those holy people look alike to me.”
The only road to peace is peace. Christ taught us this by His own example, and calls each one of us to follow.
For all the chaos here, it’s less hectic than my old job [selling software to investment banks] in New York…. When I know it’s possible to deal with belligerent people without calling the cops, when I know it’s possible to plan an overseas peace trip with only a few dollars in the bank, when I know it’s possible to survive without a real job,… it frees the creative energies of my mind to figure out my own ways of making them happen.
Larry: So waddya have to do to be a Catholic Worker?
Timothy Aikens-Hill: Well, we put up people that need a place to stay, and do peace work—you know, anti-war stuff.
Larry: Yeah, but if some guy’s attacking your woman, you gonna kill him or beat the hell out of him, won’t you?
I feel safe here. I haven’t been angry for a whole month.
I read the Bible cover to cover three and a half times. Life is supposed to be easier.
We’re not in Iraq because of oil. We’re there for more important things—like gasoline.
When confronted late at night by another guest who asked, “Who are you?” Daryl replied, “I’m John Kerry’s sister.”
I might go to college at Worcester State; but, then again, I might just live the splendor and go off into the desert like John the Baptist.
There’s a mountain in Washington. And the trees go right up to it. The sky is so clear, you can see them reflected, the trees reflected in the sky.
Is the garlic I’m sautéing supposed to smell like turpentine?
Dinner was surprisingly edible, and, as I sat and ate, I relaxed. How, I wondered, do dinners like this happen on a nightly basis? It takes a lot of hard work, patience, prayers, and pasta to feed everyone in this house.
Mason St. basketball is the definition of street ball . . . It holds people together and almost creates a sense of true brotherhood.
I yearned to call nurse practitioner Anne Marie Kaune at the Homeless Outreach to tell her that I was dying from Eastern Equine Encephalitis. I called her two weeks ago fearing that a lump on my body was cancerous, only to learn that it was actually a bug bite.
If I were mayor of Worcester, I would make a difference by trying to solve the huge problem of homelessness.
For all its sadness, it’s a wonderful world indeed.
When a probably not sober guest screamed at Claire and Scott, “I HOPE YOU BOTH BURN IN HELL!!” Scott asked, “Would you like a ride somewhere?” and the guest replied calmly, “Sure, I’ll take a ride.”
What’s the Massachusetts state flag doing on James’s bed?
We’ve come to realize that salt, sugar, and canned goods are not food groups.
One of the perks of offering hospitality at a Catholic Worker house is that we aren’t bound by laws or regulations or even hard and fast rules.
Charlene is the second guest with an accompanying dog to stay with us in the past year. Her dog, Buddy, is the quietest Chihuahua I’ve ever met in my life. At one time, Charlene worked in a circus riding elephants.
Living here on Mason Street, where our doors are always open to whomever needs a bed, makes it more difficult for me to turn a blind eye to others.
James told me about the extraordinary exit of a great uncle who died in the early nineteen hundreds. Relatives got so drunk at the man’s funeral they knocked over the candles sitting atop his casket, setting it on fire. To avoid burning down the house, the carousing mourners tossed the flaming coffin out the window.
Christ calls us to love everyone, enemies as well as friends, whether they’re Mother Theresa, Osama bin Laden, or Barack Obama.
Faith is not for the faint-hearted or dull- eyed. We have to pray for the ability to see the vitality of conscience and the power of persistent love that is being expressed all around us.
I can’t leave Christ. And I have tried.
I often think the poverty we observe is much more than a lack of money. So many who come here have not had enough beauty in their lives… and certainly not enough love.
A small boy asked me what I had done that morning, and I said, I ran 15 miles.
He then asked, Backwards or forwards?
It feels like a great gift to be within this movement in which so many choose to reject affluence to live closer to the way most people on this planet live.
This is the first time I’ve lived in a hippie house. It’s kind of nice.
Toyota is coming out with a car that will power your entire house.
Marwan Gampa, there’s fruit in raspberries.
For me, the Catholic Worker is respite and a reminder that with one misstep I could find myself here dependent upon the charity, grace, and hospitality that is offered.