For those who did not know, I co-led an Alternative Break Immersion (ABI) to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, DC this past week. Below, I hope to share my thoughts and reflections on this immersive experience:
After a peace vigil at the Pentagon on Monday morning we returned to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker for a breakfast and de-briefing. In return for hospitality, the Loyola participants and I agreed to help cook meals and complete chores around the house. On this morning Art Laffin, one of the Catholic Workers, decided we were to make pancakes for breakfast. Several of the participants enjoyed perfecting their pancake-pouring skills, thus igniting a new Beatitude from Art: “Blessed are the pancake-makers, for they shall be full and satisfied.” This certainly struck a chord in me because my project for the Ramonat Seminar is similarly titled “Blessed Are The Peacemakers”.
The DC Catholic Worker was founded in 1981 by Fr. Dick McSorely, a Jesuit at Georgetown. (Side note: Fr. McSorely was the Kennedy family’s tutor and consoled Jackie after her husband’s assassination in 1963 — I was elated to be staying in this house). His vision for this Catholic Worker revolved around Gospel nonviolence and the promotion of peace through direct action approaches of solidarity. The Catholic Workers we met — Art, Colleen, and Kathy — proved to be purveyors of their Christian values and pacifist principles. Whether we were at the Pentagon holding a peace vigil or marching in unity with Standing Rock on the National Mall, the Catholic Workers displayed a brotherly love that could only be compared to that of Dorothy Day’s message of compassion.
I anticipated this ABI for a number of months, and it was hard to grasp the reality while I was actually there. Throughout the years, the house hosted several Catholic Workers and speakers, like the Berrigan brothers, to nurture a common good. As a house of hospitality, about four or five mothers and their young children — from Ethiopia and El Salvador — live in the residence. We were fortunate to eat most meals with the families, and learned of their hardships and triumphs as refugees in the United States. My interactions with the Catholic Workers themselves, especially Kathy, brought a whole new dimension to my experience and understanding of the Catholic Worker Movement. Their friendly hugs and honesty complemented our tiring schedule of activities throughout the week. In particular, I enjoyed my morning chats with Kathy upon her return from prayer at a nearby Franciscan community. The Catonsville Nine action in 1968 prompted Kathy to lead a life of servitude and pacifism, and later brought her to the DC Catholic Worker in the late 1980s. She was also very frank about her multiple stints in jail for trespassing government property, including the Pentagon and a trident submarine base in New England, and her subsequent refusal to pay the fines stipulated by the courts. Kathy also invited women Catholic priests — yes, they do exist — to celebrate Mass at the house. Word got out, and the Archdiocese removed the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House from their directory of lay organizations.
Throughout the week my group and I met with different organizations in the DC area to learn about their advocacy work, including TASSC International (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition), Pax Christi, and the Jesuit Conference of North America. Each of these organizations provided an insight into the broader Catholic peace movement on the national and international level. We also had the opportunity to meet with Senator Chris Coons from Delaware, a friend of my dad’s from his time at Yale Law School. It was particularly enlightening to meet a lawmaker, regardless of political affiliation, and to learn about how his faith interacts with his political career.
I was especially thrilled to hear from the DC Catholic Worker’s speaker of the month Eric Martin, co-editor of The Berrigan Letters. His intriguing lecture on Daniel and Philip Berrigan’s loving and tumultuous relationship expanded my perception on the Catholic Leftist duo. Nearly fifty people filled the small confines of the house’s dining room for the lecture, and, when asked about any relation they may have had with the Berrigans, over half of the attendees raised their hand. Stories of inspiration and redemption from Martin and the attendees contribute to the legacy of the Berrigan brothers and the ongoing mission for social justice today.
My week-long “pilgrimage” to Washington, DC will remain a constant source of encouragement as I discover how to advocate on behalf of the oppressed in the world. It has also been a source of inspiration as I research and write my seminar paper on radicalism at Catholic universities in Chicago during the Vietnam War. I hope to return to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in the future to reconnect with the people who confront violence with nonviolence, in the spirit of a woman whose tenacious outlook on social concerns persevere in today’s world.
Check out some photos below from the Alternative Break Immersion:
(Hint: click on an individual photo to enlarge)