Catholic Free Press

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Keeping the Catholic Worker House a home for 25 years

Posted By August 2, 2012 | 1:21 pm | Lead Story #1
8-3 Cath worker WEB

By William T. Clew

The SS Francis and Therese Catholic Worker community in Worcester, founded 25 years ago, could use a little help.
The Catholic Worker house at 52 Mason St., built almost 130 years ago, has wiring in parts of the building that is in bad shape, according to Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker community in Worcester.
About a quarter of the house has been re-wired, but in the rest of the house the wiring  “is so old that the wires crumpled in an electrician’s hand,” he said. It is a fire hazard. And the community does not want another one of those.
When the community was founded it began common life in two apartments in a housing cooperative on Castle Street. Members said they took to heart the experience of the early Christians as described in the Acts of the Apostles 2:44-45, which says “the faithful all lived together and owned everything in common: they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.”
The community then rented a  house on Jacques Avenue in August 1987,  but they were burned out by a fire on April Fool’s Day the next year. They then moved to 52 Mason St. and have been there ever since.
Over the years the community has jacked up the house to level it, removed lead paint, replaced the roof and windows, put in insulation, finished the attic so it can be used for sleeping quarters and replaced the heating system, Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said. They also added a room on the first floor which serves as a small office.
In order to be sure of a place to continue its work, the community has raised $2,150 but needs at least $15,000 more to rewire the rest of the house. As the money is raised, the work on the wiring can continue. It would be easier to do during the summer and fall, he said. And if an electrician wants  to donate some labor it will be gladly accepted.
The  founding members of the Catholic Worker community in Worcester were Claire and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, Dan Ethier, Sarah Jeglosky and Carl Siciliano.
Their stated object in founding the local community was to “offer shelter, food and love to the homeless, sick and dying who are the most beloved of God. We also believe that in this age of nuclear and conventional war, abortion, the death penalty, torture, oppression, sexism and racism, we must not only do our best to live non-violently, but also give public witness to the peace and justice that Jesus came to give us.”
When they chose the name SS Francis and Therese Catholic Worker they said, in a letter to the community, that they were not rich, “but together we can indeed move mountains.
“Like St. Therese of Lisieux, we are ‘little flowers’ needing much support to grow, and like St. Francis of Assisi, we are totally dependent on the love and mercy of Christ crucified.”
“We have held a continuous weekly peace vigil (among other peace actions), published our paper (Catholic Radical) every other month and raised our four children. It’s been a blessed time,” Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said.
The Catholic Worker House provides shelter and meals for men and women who need a place to stay. This  year the community has provided shelter for about 75 people, including some families. Their average stay this year has been four to six weeks. That is longer than the average stay was in past years.
Mrs. Schaeffer-Duffy said there are more people now looking for a place to stay than in the past. She said more calls have been coming in, both from social agencies and from people needing help. It is not always possible to take in those looking for a place to stay.
When there is room they accept anyone who is not intoxicated or actively on drugs. The residents must follow a few rules. Residents generally get along well, Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said. There has been “surprisingly little theft and essentially no violence,” he said.
The house usually holds six guests in rooms on the upper floors, but there have been as many as seven, all sharing one bathroom. One upstairs room which served as a chapel now is a bedroom. Dave Maciewski, a Catholic Worker community member, also stays on the second floor. The Schaeffer-Duffy family occupies the first floor.
Guests sometimes are referred by church organizations, social service agencies or by police who find people on the streets or at a bus station and who have no place to stay.
The house is small and crowded when it is full of family, community members and guests. At one time the community hoped to move to a larger house and  began a fund-raising effort to buy one, but that did not work out, so 52 Mason St. continues to be home. When residents and other community members gather for meals or meetings, the kitchen table has  to be expanded to make room for everyone.
Over the years, residents came from all walks of life and a variety of places. According to a story in The Catholic Free Press in 1999, one of the guests had come to the United States with the Shah of Iran, who was here for cancer treatments. When his regime fell, the man, who was said to be the head of SAVAK, the Iranian secret police, became a refugee. He stayed  at 52 Mason St. for a couple of weeks.
Another resident was an architect who used to sit at the table going over blueprints and drawings and applying for $80,000 jobs, Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said. More recently a guest was a high school girl who had been in several foster homes and had even slept in the woods for a while.
Also, one man who stayed for three months and continued to look for work found a job, was able to rent his own place and now volunteers at 52 Mason St.