By William T. Clew and Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
WORCESTER – Members of the SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker House, who celebrated their 30th anniversary Saturday, are usually most noticeable at public prayer vigils calling attention to problems in society.
Recently, for example, they called a vigil and joined local clergy to pray for peace after shootings of and by policemen.
Among signs at the vigil were, “Pray for Peace,” “Guns Do Not Make Us Safe,” “Violence Will Never Defeat Love,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Police Lives Matter.” One participant called the Catholic Workers “the voice of conscience in Worcester.”
Local Catholic Workers have held vigils at abortion clinics and factories which make instruments of war. Some have traveled to war zones, placing themselves in danger, to pray for peace and an end to violence. Some have been arrested, fined, placed on probation or even spent time in jail, for breaking laws – often trespassing – in their civil disobedience.
But just as important as those public vigils and protests is their hospitality to people who are homeless, down on their luck, hungry or just needing a little – or sometimes a lot – of human kindness.
The SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker community celebrated its 30th anniversary Saturday at their house at 52 Mason St. with a Mass and potluck supper.
Celebrating Mass was Father John F. Madden, pastor of St. John Parish, who spent time at a Catholic Worker House in New York. He noted that the day’s readings did not seem fitting for a celebration. The first told of Jeremiah being thrown in a cistern for proclaiming God’s word. In the Gospel Jesus spoke of bringing division, not peace.
But Father Madden said these readings proclaim truth, as Catholic Workers have done. He said Jesus’ followers experience division in their families, but must put God first.
Referring to the second reading, he said, “There has been a cloud of witnesses (in this community) who intercede for us and show us we can continue to convert” and bond with God, “the only bond that can get us to the 31st” anniversary.
The congregation offered prayers. One expressed thanks for the witness of Scott and Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, founders of the SS. Francis and Therese community who still operate its house.
Prayers of gratitude
Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy expressed gratitude for Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and prayed the Church will recognize them as saints. In 1933 they co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, which has been described as a lay movement serving the poor while denouncing injustice and proclaiming peace.
Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy expressed gratitude for generosity that has kept their house standing.
“I’m not a Catholic Worker but I’m close to this house,” Will Raymond told The Catholic Free Press at Saturday’s celebration. He said he considers this his faith community.
He recalled attending their 20th anniversary.
The Schaeffer-Duffys have “gone a lot further into their journey over the past decade, and made a fresh commitment to saying vespers and maintaining that side of the life,” he said. “I’m impressed with the way they keep their marriage going and this house of service and everything else that they do.… It’s astounding to me they’ve raised four children with homeless people living in the house with them.” He said they are some of the few people he’s met who really follow St. Francis’ “evangelical poverty.”
The Catholic Worker “gives regular people a chance to offer hospitality,” even if they don’t live in voluntary poverty or house people daily, said Marc Tumeinski, an extended member of the community with his wife, JoAnn Massarelli.
“I like what they do; I want to get involved,” said Williams Martinez, a Brown University student and intern at Agape, a similar Catholic community in Hardwick.
The Mason Street house is the SS. Francis and Therese community’s second in the city. Members left their first home, on the first floor of a three decker on Jaques Avenue, after a fire on the third floor and subsequent water damage. That was on April Fool’s Day 1968. With the help of Msgr. Edmond Tinsley they found their present home.
In August 1986 they published the first edition of their newsletter, the Catholic Radical, which now comes out every two months. The newsletter says the founding members were the Schaeffer-Duffys and their then-infant son, Justin, Carl Siciliane, Sarah Jeglosky and Dan Ethier.
They had rented their Jaques Avenue apartment. They decided they would buy the Mason Street home. Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said that a friend “miraculously” loaned them $63,000 interest-free, which they were able to pay back in three years. They also received small gifts which totaled $24,000 to $25,000.
Martin Sheen contributed
“I wrote letters to everybody,” asking for help, he said. One of those who got a letter and helped out was actor Martin Sheen. He is probably best known for having played U.S. President Josiah Bartlett on the television drama “West Wing.” According to a biography, Mr. Sheen, raised a Catholic, had met Dorothy Day and later played Peter Maurin in “Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story.”
Mr. Sheen had written a book, published by Random House, and authorized the publisher to send the royalty checks to the Catholic Worker House in Worcester.
The Catholic Worker House is able to do its work in large part because of support from many people, Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said. Donations come in from surprising people and from unexpected places, he said.
“We can see God’s hand in our lives,” he said.
The Schaeffer-Duffys work part time to earn money and are paid for articles they write and talks they give. They run what Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy calls a cottage industry – baking bread which they sell at various venues for whatever people want pay. The Catholic Radical also is sold.
The revenue from these endeavors pays the weekly household expenses.
4 or 5 Guests at the house
Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy said there usually are four or five guests staying at the house free-of-charge at any one time. In a year, perhaps 50 to 75 guests stay for various lengths of time. Many are working people whose wages aren’t high enough for housing, she said.
“That’s why the minimum wage is so important,” she said.
The guests are asked not to use alcohol or drugs and to take part in housekeeping chores. They also must leave the house each day at 8:30 a.m., unless they are sick, and not return until 3 p.m. Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said they can look for work or do other things with that time rather than sit around and watch television. And the residents get along better if they are not together all the time.
They have meals with the Schaeffer-Duffy family, except on Friday nights, Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said. That night they have dinner in their upstairs rooms while the family has dinner together downstairs. It is an old-fashioned family gathering over a meal, saying grace before the meal and having family talk during it.
He said their four children are grown now, but they often come back for the Friday-night family dinner.
People from many different walks of life have been guests at the Catholic Worker House. Perhaps the most exotic, Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy said, arrived after the Shah of Iran had come to the United States for cancer treatment. While he was here his government was overthrown.
The man reputed to have been head of SAVAK, the shah’s secret police, wound up in Worcester and stayed with them briefly.
Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said that once, when the house was full, a man called asking for a place to sleep. Schedules allowed for him to share a bed with a resident, in what is called hot bunking. One sleeps while the other is out. The sheets are changed in between. The new man was a virulent white supremacist. The man he was hot-bunking with was African-American.