St. Peter Claver South Bend Catholic Worker
“Dorothy (Day) spent her life putting flesh on the bones of Matthew 25. If there ever was a mission statement of the Catholic Worker movement, this was it.” — From “The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual & Spiritual Origins,” by Mark and Louise Zwick, Houston Catholic Worker, USA.
The Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46 speaks of the last judgment, where Jesus tells his friends in parable: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” This passage highlights the direct and relational example of the works of mercy in serving and loving Jesus himself. This personalism and spirituality of the Incarnation can be seen every day at the South Bend Catholic worker house.
On historic St. Joseph Street, the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker House strives to be faithful to Christ and follow the mission of now-servant of God Dorothy Day. Jesus is at center of all that the staff believes, and thus, all they do. They aim to practice the works of mercy each day and oppose the works of war.
Each guest is treated and cared for personally and with the greatest respect. In practice, this takes the shape of running two houses of hospitality, one for 10 men, one for 10 women; providing dinner and community; and organizing Our Lady of the Road drop-in meals, which serve 130 guests Friday through Sunday. Each guest’s situation is unique, so they can stay for various lengths of time.
“It is like family to me here,” said “Richard,” one guest at the men’s house. He arrived at the St. Peter Claver House “in a roundabout way, after a rough time” that included losing his low-income housing apartment. He had worked for 29 years, driving with his CDL and now found himself homeless. “I was looking for a place to lay down” three months ago and joined the Catholic Worker staff and volunteers for dinner and evening prayer. “Matthew, Eric and the girls here don’t act like they’re too good to talk to me.”
The idea of a house of hospitality is actually an early Christian concept described in the Council of Carthage in 435. Bishops then were asked to start hospices or houses for each of their parishes. Dorothy Day was aware of many of these early Church practices, and she inspired others to live likewise. Everything at the South Bend Catholic Worker homes is freely contributed or donated to them.
Dr. Margie Pfeil is the co-founder of the South Bend Catholic worker houses and a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame. Her hope is that the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker House continues to bear faithful witness to the way of contemplative, nonviolent action as an intentional Christian community, and that “this is a small step toward ‘building a new society in the shell of the old,’ as Peter Maurin put it.” In 1933, Day and Maurin co-founded The Catholic Worker newspaper, which quickly spread into a worldwide movement
The nonprofit outreach Our Lady of the Road Drop-In, which is offered at 744 S Main St., South Bend, is another site where those dedicated to the Mission of Day, Maurin and St. Peter Claver strive to connect the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Breakfast, coffee, conversation, friendship, clean showers and laundry services are all provided. Recently space was renovated for an upstairs chapel, and the Weather Amnesty overnight room was transformed into an art therapy and meeting room for counseling with war veterans by Catholic Peace Fellowship. The Weather Amnesty program, although needed and helpful during extreme winter and snow weather nights for homeless individuals to keep warm indoors, was becoming a concern due to an outbreak of extreme heroin use.
The chapel is the first permanent worship space at Our Lady of the Road. The space has an elegant, simple cedar ceiling and walls with a long staircase leading upstairs. A wheelchair lift will soon be operational. Stain glass windows and lovely liturgical details add to the prayerful, peace-filled space, which will be completed in November and dedicated in December. Friends and seminarians of the Catholic Worker donated their time and talent to complete the chapel’s renovation.
Monetary donations for the new chapel, as well as for necessities like coffee, sugar and laundry detergent for Our Lady for the Road, are always welcome. All contributions are tax deductible. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.