Are You In Our Future?
When we began Mary’s House those many years ago we had just a dream - I’d wanted to be in a house of hospitality ever since I lived at Casa Maria in the late 1960’s. We were at a time in our lives (long story) when it seemed possible. We decided to try, although we had no clear picture other than a “safe place for families”.
We began by finding a house and we begged for money, and the Birmingham community responded generously. We were able to pay cash for the house and have several thousand dollars left for repairs. It took a year of volunteer labor, but the house opened in 1993. Since we have offered hospitality continuously except for a one-year sabbatical. We have housed primarily women and children, but also a few men, some dads with kids, some families with dads. That has always been the core of Mary’s House - the hospitality.
Mary’s House has an orientation toward peace - Jim and I each travelled to Iraq more than once, and Jim made several trips to Palestine and also to Sarajevo. We held vigils against sanctions and war, and beginning after 9/11 we began holding two peace vigils a week, one at Wednesday morning rush hour and one late on Saturday afternoons. Those vigils have become vigils for nonviolence and against war and all kinds of injustice. They’ve never been very big, but they are consistent.
Mary’s House works against the death penalty, doing lobbying and letter writing and vigiling on execution dates; or commitment was especially deepened by our friendship with Leroy White, whose execution we finally witnessed.
We’ve also done our best to support other movements over the years - the Black Lives Matter, Poor People’s Campaign, farm workers unions, the fledgling Pax Christi Alabama, and so on. We try to incorporate our learnings from those contacts into the house and the way it runs.
As new Catholic Workers, we organized Round Table discussions for clarification of thought. After a year or two we decided there must be a better way - our round table usually consisted of the two of us and our speaker. The Friday night meetings changed form - now we sponsor two retreats a year, one in Advent and one in Lent. We bring in speakers who have something to teach us about Gospel nonviolence, and we invite people to come and listen and pray.
And … Prayer. Mary’s House has been blessed to have local priests who are willing to take time from their exceedingly busy schedules to join us every First Friday for Mass, followed by a potluck. A small community has gathered around the living room each First Friday and prayed and reflected on Scripture, and shared broken bread.
Mary’s House has never been a living community, except in the sense that I live here with our guests. It has a broad based support community and a small “board” who take on some of the work of the house, brainstorm together, and support each other and the house. It also has a much broader community of support here in Birmingham and farther afield - people who come for the retreats, or visit while passing through, or send money from far-flung locations. We have never lacked for money! (I think it’s divine compensation for not having live-in community.) We aren’t rich, but we have what we need to run the house, and when large expenses loom, a large check usually arrives. If we ask, people generously share. We keep expenses low. I take a stipend of $100 per month, plus room and board since I live here. Otherwise all donations go into the house and the work of the house.
We have been thinking now about the future of Mary’s House. I am 73 years old, and Jim is almost 81. We would like to share the joys (and burdens) of Mary’s House with someone(s) younger. I would like to more out of full-time hospitality no later than my 75th birthday, which would mean finding someone to join us at the house. The house has been through a lot of changes, and they’ve been good. There could be more changes - a simple example: by reconfiguring the use of our space, we could accommodate two hospitallers instead of one, and still offering hospitality to families. New people would bring new ways of doing things, and new things to do. We would hope to remain on the board and involved in the peace work, the retreats, and in the hospitality if needed. We are looking for a couple of people who might want to dream with us and our community about how to continue this work. We would prefer to have the house remain a Catholic Worker, and the board has thought about ways to make life easier for new hospitallers - providing health insurance if needed, for example. However, we know that not everything continues as it began - and our Catholic Worker roots tell us that Dorothy herself wasn’t worried about things continuing as she wished, but left it in God’s hands.
There are some options for the house to be used to help homeless folks even if it isn’t Mary’s House Catholic Worker any more, but we’re asking first if there’s anyone who’d like to dream and plan with us for the next stage of Mary’s House Catholic Worker …