April 23, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 17

News

Local social justice activists revive the Catholic Worker Movement

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

Gabriella Duncan plays the piano at the Hillman City Collaboratory on a recent Tuesday. Duncan is part of Seattle Catholic Worker, a group of people who serve meals to homeless people at the community center five days a week.

Photo by Ngoc Tran

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Five days a week, members of Seattle Catholic Worker staff the Hillman City Collaboratory, a new community center about half a mile south of Columbia City on Rainier Avenue South.

They serve meals at the storefront on the northwest corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Orcas Street. Sometimes they pack up food and drive around South Seattle, serving it to homeless people and day laborers.

The group of seven people, from their 20s to 50s, is the newest incarnation of Seattle Catholic Worker, a Christian activist movement that focuses on serving homeless and poor people. They live together in an eight-bedroom house in Skyway and base their organization on the values of devout Catholic and activist Dorothy Day, who started the Catholic Worker Movement more than 80 years ago.

The group comprises Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics and others, all valuing service to poor and homeless people, based on the biblical passage found in Matthew 25, when Jesus told his disciples, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”

This year, the group published its first newspaper, The Inbreaking, and distributed it to coffee shops in the area.

The group started in 2012, when Occupy Seattle activists Peter Gallagher and Eli Burnham met.

“We both wanted to live in a gospel-based community that served the poor, the marginalized and oppressed,” said Gallagher, 24.

Seattle has a long history with Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Movement. Day formed the first Seattle Catholic Worker group in the 1930s, which operated around Seattle until the end of World War II.

John Williams and Kathleen O’Hanlon formed another in 1974, establishing two “houses of hospitality,” in which members of Seattle Catholic Worker lived with homeless people. They also ran The Family Kitchen, a hot meal program at St. James Cathedral on First Hill.

That group dissolved around 2005, as the members got older.

“We’re all in our 60s now,” Williams, 64, said. “If we had younger people to take over the Family Kitchen, we would have kept that going.”

Gallagher and Burnham have taken on the work now, continuing the tradition of living together and engaging in political protests. They bought a house in Skyway, and homeless people moved in to live with them.

They also participate in Occupy-style protests, most recently holding a service on the banks of the Duwamish River to rally about climate change.

Like the larger Catholic Worker movement, Seattle Catholic Worker has loose ties to the church hierarchy. The group is leaderless; anyone can start a Catholic Worker group, Gallagher said.

“At its roots, it’s an anarchist movement,” he said.

According to Dorothy Day, the Catholic Church, despite its flaws, is the movement’s mother.

The Catholic Worker movement draws from “the saints and the prophets and the peace teaching of the church,” Williams said.

To learn more about Seattle Catholic Worker or read The Inbreaking, visit seattlecatholicworker.wordpress.com.

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