Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Update from Dennis

Hi All,

Volunteer Reminder

Tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 11 is our volunteer night at The River Food Pantry, located just a few blocks from Dane County Regional Airport. You can get details and directions at:

Here is Jenny's email to me:

" Please have volunteers arrive by 5 for a brief training and job assignments. Several jobs, including serving in the kitchen, require closed toe shoes. We are usually finished by 8pm, sometimes as early as 7:30pm. Just depends on how busy we are. Everyone is welcome to join us for dinner. There is always plenty for everyone.

Jenny "

I plan to arrive around 4:30, but will not be able to stay long. I'm going to the Dane County Jail to help out with our Catholic Ministry there. I do hope you can make it tomorrow. The last time we served at The River was very fast paced and enjoyable. After a couple of hours of hard work we were treated to a delicious meal.

Other News

Tim and I made a visit to the release area of the Dane County Jail (Public Safety Building on Doty St.) and were able to meet a few of the regular visitors to this early morning reception area and de facto warming shelter for those who come from the streets or the Porchlight shelter at Grace Church. We had planned on meeting our first Jail Transportation client there and driving him back to his home in Avoca, WI. However, after his release, he was contacted by his brother who offered to come and pick him up. I was glad that he had family who was caring for him, but a bit disappointed that Tim and I did not have the chance to offer more assistance. In the end, we were able to supply “Bill” with a warm, lightly used winter coat , a few dollars and the peace of mind that a couple of people were waiting for him when he was released from jail. I came away realizing just how quickly plans change for those who depend on others for support. Although “Bill” desperately wanted to have the assurance that someone would be there for him when he was released from jail, he was not able to predict in advance what his family would do. We may want to rethink our offering of help and concentrate on more immediate needs. Making future plans and having control over them may just be more than what our clients are able to do.

This morning I met with three very engaging young people who are active in a Catholic group associated with St. Paul's on the UW campus. They call themselves Evangelical Catholics and certainly full of Spirit-filled enthusiasm. They contacted us through our website and wanted to explore the availability of housing for their homeless friends they had made while working at the local shelters and soup kitchens. I've invited them to stay in touch with us as MCW grows and hope a few will join us for our next Round Table brunch. They all have an interest in community living.

Things are looking good for the upcoming trip to Dubuque on Sunday Jan. 18. Please consider joining us on our visit to the Catholic Worker there.

Finally, thanks for your input on the radio interview. Charlie Petro graciously accepted my request that he share his wisdom with the radio producer.  I really would have enjoyed the chance to explore this theme, but agreed with Tim  that Charlie is the one for this.    I've asked for a link to the interview once it has been edited.  The question he will be tackling is a provocative one “Was Jesus an anarchist?” Speak boldly brother Charlie!

There are other things to report, but I'll keep this note short in hopes that you will make it to the end.

May the Spirit and joy of Advent invade your hearts and homes this season. We wait because we must. And while we wait, let's continue to look for ways that we can work together to bring about the “Kindom of God”


Friday, November 28, 2014

Visiting St. Martin House of Hospitality in the Mission, San Francisco

Hello to all,

Feelings of gratitude still linger from yesteday's incredibly enjoyable time with the family of our daughter's partner here in San Francisco where we are spending 5 days with our two children.  Both kids have found a way to live and work  in the Bay Area.  We are thrilled to have been again invited to spend Thanksgiving with them.

Yesterday,  before heading out to our daughter's big food fiesta, we walked over to the St. Martin DePorres House of Hospitality ( to see what was happening.  From about a block away, I could see a pretty good sized crowd gathered on the sidewalk, next to an even larger clump of bicycles.  The facade of this city lot had rough sawn planking holding up the tattered cloth signs and banners, one of which had a quote by Dorothy Day.  I knew I had found the right spot!  While this multi-faceted ourtreach program  is perhaps not a pure Catholic Worker, the spirit of good works made the place vibrate in a way  that we would all recognize as close to our founders'  hearts.

Once my daughter, son and I made it through the large wooden door, we were greeted by a couple of women and a man who were handing out tickets for the Thanksgiving Day meal.  We explained that could not stay, but if we had, would have been number 229.  The place was abuzz with excitement and good will, no unlike what I have felt when volunteering at The River Food Pantry.     A 10 member jazz band was playing in one corner of the courtyard.  Our greeter, Abby,  explained that this band had the tradition of playing every year for this huge holiday celebration as they had done for the past 23 years.  Abby has been involved since 1978.

We kept our initial visit short.  Abby and the others were obviously mulit-tasking as they talked to us, directing guests and volunteers to the different stations set up.  They told us that they were managing over 100 volunteers!    We said our goodbyes, but not before being invited back as volunteers to help with meal prep and serving.    I plan to make my way back over to St Martin House sometime today or Sunday to spend a few hours with the other volunteers.  I will report back with more details at our next Round Table/Brunch, the date of which has not yet been set.

I want to express to each of you who have been a part of the conceiving and building of Madison Catholic Worker my sincere gratitude.  Our small community began this year, and although still quite young and fragile,  we are very much alive with hope.    Building a community founded on shared dreams has to be one of the most fulfilling activities that we as humans can undertake.  I can't imagine anything more worthwhile.  Thank you, thank you, each of you,  for the risks you have taken with MCW and for the generous time and spirit  you each have contributed to this undertaking.   My prayer is that as we look ahead to next year, we will continue to be nurtured by the zeal of Peter and Dorothy.

Wishing  you and yours a restful, joyful Thanksgiving!


St Martin House of Hospitality

Friday, November 14, 2014

Next Round Table and Brunch this Sunday, Nov. 16

Hi All,
This Sunday, November 16,  from 12:30-2:00 pm,  the Madison Catholic Workers will meet for our monthly Round Table  and Scrumptious Brunch. In addition to fine food and friendly fellowship,  we will  listen to updates on the  subgroup activities that have taken place since our last gathering. If you have not attended a brunch and would like to attend this Sunday, please contact us for more information.  You can reach us at   Please consider joining us.  We would love to meet you.




Sunday, October 5, 2014

On Leadership and Direction

Dear Workers,
I'm feeling that now is a propitious time to assert my leadership role in MCW by offering the group a re-articulation of my original vision for a Catholic Worker in Madison. Your many thoughtful emails and posts over the past few weeks have been encouraging and I'd like to enter this digital conversation more actively by stating clearly what I hold to be the goals of our group. I want to offer too a few of my strategies that I have attempted to implement as to how to achieve those goals. If you will permit, I'll write this initial installment and look for your responses.

First, I want to express my gratitude, enthusiasm and optimism for what we have built as a group to this date. What began as just an idea between Adam and me while sitting in the Dane County Jail chapel several months ago has now grown into what I consider a respectable and committed group. I was reminded of this when at our last brunch gathering I counted over 20 of us in attendance. I believe we are on to something and feel more committed than ever to accompany each of you in living out the unfolding story of Catholic Worker of Madison. I believe that Dorothy, Peter and the communion of saints are with us in spirit and guiding our first steps, however clumsy, to create a house.
I want to reassure you that I continue to hold the dream of one day nailing our MCW sign to the front of a building, rented or purchased, that we will call our home. I sense that this is a shared hope, one that each of us holds up in prayer and expectation. I see it as an essential part the glue that binds us together.
From the start, I felt that the establishment and running of a Catholic Worker House would require the love and patience of many skilled and brave Workers. We'll need savvy people with both the dream and moxy. While starting a CW House appears to be no more complicated than putting up a sign on a front porch, the successful management needed to insure a consistent presence will come only after the group learns to work in a community of trust. 

If we are intent about encountering Christ crucified in the economically disadvantaged brothers and sisters here in Madison, then we will need to take certain steps to prepare ourselves for this unique, sacred and oh so challenging work of mercy.

The first steps needed was to attract others of like mind and heart. By word of mouth and through the fine website that Adam assembled, we cast a wide net and to my delight, brought many of you to us. It took a few months for the size and shape of the group to stabilize, but now I am sensing that we have reached critical mass.  

Once the group coalesced, I had in mind that the next steps would be to begin to offer opportunities for each of us to “Come and See”. I wanted, and still want, us to meet the people of Madison, namely, those with whom we intend to work. And equally, I want a few of them to meet us. My question is simply this: Will we want to work with this culture? Will they accept our offer of companionship? Or simply, will we like each other enough to want to commit time, money and energy into creating a CW house of hospitality and prayer where we can come together to share our lives? It seems essential to me that before ever embarking on starting a house, that we have to know a bit about how each of us will act and react in this world we wish to enter. For when the chaotic demands of starting and running a worker house push each of us to our limits, I want to have at least a basic level of trust that we will stay the course. We need to be “field-tested” so to speak. I anticipate for myself and for all of us having to confront what I'll simply call culture shock. I'll say more later on this.

My invitations to spend an evening at a food pantry or a morning at at drop-in shelter are my attempts to take us to streets, to immerse ourselves, however briefly, in situations that will both inspire and at times may threaten us. What skills will we each need to acquire to stay the course? Will we as a group have the maturity and mettle to effectively and compassionately confront our fears, misconceptions and biases in order to carry out the works of mercy listed in our brochure and website? I want to explore this with you by offering my “come and see” invitations as a means to reaching our stated goal opening a CW house. We need training and immersion experiences as a group prior to launching our dream.

Finally, speaking of vision, I'd like to offer you a glimpse into what I hold to be sacred, my cosmovision if you will. Dorothy Day and her movement represents for me the closest expression of my own Catholic Christian understanding of how to live a meaningful and happy life. I am passionate about life, and have chosen to live out my remaining years of it in ways that honor and seek after a loving and intimate God who suffers with their people. I find my hope of personal and societal redemption in the Cross. 

OK, so where do we go from here? Not sure, but sensing the faith and energy of the group, I feel certain that together we will find our way. As you may have sensed, I am, like Moses, a reluctant and perhaps thick tongued leader. I do hope that we will continue to give each other the opportunity to try our out leadership skills, and be able to support and affirm each other in these sometimes awkward attempts. We may need to wander in the wilderness from time to time. Let's pray for patience toward one another. I am grateful for Maggie, Tim, and Adam who have contributed so much to bring MCW to where we are today, and look forward to supporting others who find the courage to lead as we journey forward.
In the Trust of Christ,

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bridges to Community

Last week seven of us in the Catholic Worker community met with the chaplains at the Dane County Jail and a representative from Madison Urban Ministries to kick-off a transportation service for inmates released from jail.  We were energized by the hope that this ministry could bring to the community and the support we have been receiving from all in the community who hear of it.

We have recognized the lack of community support for those in jail once released.  Jail is a challenging environment.  However, it does provide structure, time and an opportunity for sobriety and with this a person while there can develop healthy resolutions to take on the world in new ways once released.  However, with little community support and a lack of structure an individual can flounder in the transition to the real world.  When faced with the challenges of finding housing, food, transportation or clothing it is easy to enter into or return to unhealthy patterns of behavior.   Without an introduction to the wider community it is easy to become entangled in familiar yet destructive relationships from the past. 

Our idea in brief is to provide a ride from the Dane County Jail to other supportive services in the area.   We see this as a way to be with someone in that very confusing moment when that person walks out of jail with only the clothes they came in on.   For many, they are walking into a world with little support.  Though we cannot  provide for their every need we can give them a ride to those who are more positioned at this time to help them make the transition with success.  We see this as a small first step in reaching out to meet what has been characterized as an “ocean of need.”

Through a referral process in the jail system we propose to meet individuals at the exit door.  We will sit with them and discuss their plans now that they are free in the community again.  And we will provide transportation to social services and community support.  We are learning as we go but excited to be off and running.

Peace, Adam

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Progress Notes

Dear Catholic Workers,

I've enjoyed the lively and thoughtful emails that many of you have offered since our first gathering at Adam's house a few weeks ago. They have challenged me to look deeper into myself to discover what moves me to believe that our project is worth undertaking. In so doing, I have discovered a strong desire to have some sort of a framework against which we can bounce our ideas.

In looking for a model, I found myself returning to a useful method I learned and practiced while doing mission and development work in Latin America in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. I'll offer it for your consideration. We called it : Ver, Juzgar, Actuar, (See-Judge-Act)
While in Chile in 1993, our mission team used this method of implementing Catholic social teaching to guide us. Our first task was to see clearly the situation. In order to do this, we were encouraged to spend time getting to know the people, culture, language, food, etc. Of the three year service contract, the first year was considered a time of learning, observing, building trust, often just hanging out with the people we came to serve. The most frustrating part of this was that when asked by others what it was we came to do, we had no clear plan to offer them. Letters back to our friends and supporters in the states were similarly vague on what we were accomplishing that first year, as we strove to remain true to the method. Patience wore thin at times. We attended endless parties, first communions, horse races, fund raiser, soccer games, parish meetings, and funerals, We established our presence and built trust.

Eventually, after many months of what felt like idleness, we were able to begin to ask the people we came to serve what it was that the community wanted. Several expressed a desire to own a piece of land on which they could build their own home. This became our project, our focus. Progress was slow but the project was clearly a group effort, one that began with the community’s expressed hopes and dreams.

After a year of “seeing” we were able to judge or discern how to best use our skills. After a time of discernment, we acted. It was only then that the group moved forward on a project that resulted in the construction of over 50 small single family houses. The action phase came, just as we were completing our three year contract. In truth, it was not until a return visit some 7 years later that were able to share a meal with our friends in the completed houses. We were not around for the brick and mortar phase of the project, but I'm glad to have been involved in the planning and organizing. In truth, I would have enjoyed helping with the construction phase.

I'm really not sure how relevant this experience is to what we are undertaking with MCW. I could argue that our first task might be to establish a presence in the community, and that opening a worker house is the best way to make our intentions known to the community we intend to serve. Showing up, I've been told, is half the key to success.

Another approach could be to challenge ourselves to spend significant time and energy getting to know the community of persons we intend to serve. Ideally, I'd really like to be invited in. Several of us have suggested ways that we can get to know Madison community. Sharing meals and prayers with them seems to be a very good starting point. Spending a night or two at the shelters might also be helpful. I'd be honored and thrilled if I were offered the chance to sleep out with them on the streets. I wonder what a person who is homeless considers to be his or her “home”. I'll need to learn how to respect that space. My hope is that through some of these conversations, we might be called to serve, and that this call to service can be translated into what will become Madison Catholic Worker.

Frankly, at times I feel overwhelmed with what I need to learn in order to be effective. I can't help remembering how utterly helpless and ineffective I felt those first few months in Chile. I'll need the support of our CW community to remain focused. May the Spirit guide us as we move ahead. I believe we have the will and the skill to create a Catholic Worker presence in Madison.
Finally, here is a quote on the See- Judge- Act model:

Pope John XXIII wrote in one of his encyclicals:

First, one reviews the concrete situation; secondly, one forms a judgment on it in the light of these same principles; thirdly, one decides what in the circumstances can and should be done to implement these principles. These are the three stages that are usually expressed in the three terms: look, judge, act.”

Here is a PDF that elaborates on the See-Judge-Act model.

In Christ's Peace,

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Open Letter To All Prospective Madison Catholic Workers

I want to thank you for your interest in the Catholic Worker being formed here in Madison, Wisconsin.

Currently we are in the very beginning stages of a process of prayer, discernment and dialogue that we hope will lead to the formation of a Catholic Worker presences here in Wisconsin's capital city. To our knowledge there has not been a CW group in this city, so we are essentially building from scratch.

Here is a brief history of how we arrived at a place where we felt confident enough to launch a website and begin to invite others to join us.

About 2 years ago, Adam Lewandowski and I began volunteering weekly at our local Dane County Jail to serve as Catholic lay ministers for the men and women of the maximum security section of this jail. Our presences there is limited to providing a liturgy and small group sharing time  weekly to a group of about 20 men and 10 women. Soon, through talking with the inmates who came to our chapel service, we began to learn of the challenges that this population faced after their release. We began to consider other ways to accompany them.

We were moved to act by another group as well. While waiting each week in the lobby of the City County Builder which houses the jail, we met with several members of the homeless community who rest and often sleep in and around this public facility. Our awareness of these people's temporal and spiritual needs influenced in no small way our desire to search for a way engage ourselves in the Catholic Works of Mercy. Soon enough, we were considering Dorothy and Peter's model as way to respond to the Spirit-guided urgings of our consciousnesses.

Our current group of organizers remains under 10 members. We are planning to meet after Easter to begin a more formal process of facilitated conversations. I am happy to report that the small group possesses a strong “can-do” spirit and a deep commitment to Catholic prayer and social values. At this writing we have not yet formalized our vision, but have built an initial sense of trust that together we can contribute a collective portion toward the building of the reign of God.

So, if you are interested in what we have built or what we dream of building, we invite you to keep in touch. If you are looking for an established Catholic Worker community that you can join in the near future, we can't currently offer you anything. Madison, however, possesses many options for community and alternative living, so please check out the city for other options. We will certainly be forming an extended community of Catholic Workers very soon and will welcome you into this circle of prayer and community.

In the meantime, I invite you to read over the Means and Purpose of Catholic Worker . This is a general description, one we hope to use as a guiding voice as we walk together in the spirit of Dorothy and Peter.

Please contact us if you are in town and would like to meet with us over a cup of coffee or tea.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Visit to St. Francis House, Columbia Missouri

Last week I visited the St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Columbia, Mo, the city of my college Alma-mater school, University of Missouri. After getting slightly lost due to Google maps not knowing that I meant to type Rangeline St. and not Rangeline Rd., I pulled up to a well built two story brick home located in a neighborhood that appears to be in need of a bit of urban renewal.

I arrived around 8:30 am, and was greeted by a 75-80 year old guest who was sitting on the front porch enjoying a smoke. He invited me inside, where I met Steve Jacobs, one of the long time Workers of this house. Steve poured me a a cup of coffee and we sat down a very large wood plank table, accompanied by a few other guests who were finishing their breakfast of fresh fruit and glazed donuts.

Steve's warm smile and calm manner made me feel welcome almost immediately so I launched into a brief explanation of the purpose of my visit. I told Steve that I first came across a Catholic Worker House while living in Chicago back in the 1980s. There in the neighborhood of Uptown, my partner Nancy and I were occasional guests at the evening meal. There we were introduced to the works of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the founders of Catholic Worker, and saw the old Catholic works of mercy put into action. This experience produced in me a certain solid hope that some day I would have the chance to reconnect to this powerful work. Other pursuits filled the years since then, but the dream never really went away.

Steve then told his story. After serving a couple of years in the Philippines during the waning years of the Vietnam War, he became a conscious objector and returned to the US to study to be a Registered Nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Columbia. When Phillip Berrigan came to town to speak on the Vietnam War, Steve was asked to accompany this priest/activist. It was Phillip Berrigan who first introduced Steve to the Catholic Worker Movement. From there he and his wife initiated a soup kitchen with others who attended the Catholic Newman Center on the MU campus. Soon their local movement grew, and they were able to put a down payment on the house.

What surprised me the most perhaps centers on the large number of groups and individuals that are connected to this project. At the soup kitchen that began in the early 1980s, groups of Christians, Jews and Muslims take turns preparing and serving those in need. For reasons you will surely appreciate if you read any of the writings of Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker tends to attract people of all faiths and philosophies. Their autonomous houses operate independently of any formal religious organization or structure and often do not even enjoy federal tax exempt status. Dorothy simply wanted to be unencumbered by such relationships. She was fiercely independent and beholding only to the God she followed.

I shared with Steve my dream of a Catholic Worker house in Madison. Although I do hope that some day we would be able to offer temporary housing to those in need, I explained that the group will begin by opening a day shelter or perhaps an occasional noon meal. Once we gain some support both from the neighborhood community as well as from interested volunteers, we will consider allowing the project to expand. I'd rather start with a modest goal that increases our chances of success than bite off more than we can handle. I am still of the mind that small is beautiful.

I want to thank those of you who have encouraged and prodded me over the years to act on this dream. Now that Adam and a few other key people have offered their help, I feel ready to move forward and put some wings on this idea. Currently we are forming a non profit corporation and opening a bank account that will allow us to receive the gifts many of you have so generously offered these past few months. For those of you wanting or needing to donate to a tax exempt entity, please stay tuned, we are looking into ways to make this happen. To those of you who have written or called to offer your time and talents, please expect a follow up phone call from one of us. We are just in the initial stages, but sense from your inquiries and offers that the Spirit is moving to bring this little project to life. Please contact us with any ideas, questions or thoughts. At this early point of departure, your influence will be quite strong in shaping our future.

In the mean time, please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. We seek to remain guided by the Spirit as we move ahead, depending on grace, both divine and temporal to carry out the works of mercy that our faith calls us to.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Starting a Catholic Worker

A few days ago we launched and our site is live! And now welcome to the St. Francis House blog.  

Here we can keep up to date with the latest happenings at St. Francis Catholic Worker.  I mentioned the Madison Catholic Worker with a few people this morning and it was enthusiastically received.   It is a project that is in the thoughts and hearts of many in Madison, I think...  I encourage others to post comments with thoughts and hopes on a Catholic Worker project in Madison. 
I had an experience this week that was a well-timed motivator for encouraging this project along.   I have been a part of the Dane County Jail Ministry team for a few years.  This week five of our team went as usual to the Thursday night jail ministry.  The theme that night was “asking God for what you desire.”   I was not feeling particularly enthusiastic this week.  Sometimes I think the Rolling Stones might have gotten it right, “You can’t always get what you want” though you might get what you need.  But I was evangelized by one of the inmates at the end of our service who came up to me and said that the discussion reminded him of an old gospel hymn, “Jesus is on the Mainline”  Just call him up and if keep at it long enough you can get to God.  That is the point.  We might not get what we want but we will get nearer to God and God is ultimately the only thing that we really desire – God is the fulfillment of our deepest wants.  I went home and learned that hymn – which I discovered has been performed by everybody from the Mississippi Mass Choir to Aerosmith.
But the reason for my sharing this is that I was evangelized by that inmate on Thursday and found hope and encouragement through him.  Working with the poor can be like that.  We don’t offer much but we gain tremendously if the poor can forgive us our better-than-you charitable attitude and if we can open our hearts a little.  It is often the rich who have the biggest barriers because we think we have so much to loose if we let go.  But God is already there with the poor – so if we put up a barrier to poverty – we put up a barrier to God.  Can we lower our barriers even a little?  

I think this Catholic Worker project might be a way to do that.  By living closely with and being connected with those who have less and even more so being one with the poor, by accepting our own poverty, “them” turns into “us” and true charity and communion can begin.   So here’s to hoping for a greater authenticity in our relationships to one another including the least (which is sometimes ourselves).  And also here’s to hoping that St. Francis Catholic Worker might be a vehicle to that greater openness of heart to God in our neighbor.