Alliance Catholic Worker

The Alliance Catholic Worker is officially open! On Saturday, May 19th, Connie and I were there bright and early to brew the first pot of coffee, set out the first batch of donuts, cups, plates and napkins – and then, at 11am, to fling open the doors and welcome (we hoped) our neighbors from here on Freedom Street to join us. We set several chairs out front and sat down, coffee cups in hand. Don’t mind admitting that we were nervous (you know, that feeling of “What if you gave a party and no one came”?).

But join us they did, and it was wonderful! They welcomed us! We were the strangers and they let us in. First to show up were three kids – two boys and a girl (siblings, after all), cruising about on their bikes, just kind of checking us out, definitely as curious about us as we were about them. “Hey, guys, come on in! How about some donuts and hot cocoa!” Connie, never one to miss an opportunity (smart!) then added, “Why don’t you go get your moms and dads “?! And they did! Well, a mom, Jennifer, and a grandmother, Diane, bringing along adorable little, 2-yr old “Bird,” as she’s called.

Next thing, we’re all sitting there, hanging out on the “porch” of the CW, drinking coffee, eating donuts. The older kids are inside playing checkers and “Bird” is running in to the toy bin and bringing outside every toy she can get her hands on. And their moms and Connie and I are talking. They want to know who we are and we explain simply that we’re the Alliance Catholic Worker … that St Theodore Church and its social hall have been offered to us to continue to be Church in this neighborhood, but a different kind of Church. One resting on the tenants of the Catholic Worker movement, which is a radical response (“radical,” as in getting back to the roots) to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Our neighbors talk about their struggles: joblessness or underpaying jobs that take them away from home for too many hours; health issues; struggles with drug addiction and alcohol. Violence in the neighborhood; landlords who aren’t around; boarded-up houses to further devalue the land.

Other people show up: a woman from Canton visiting her sister. After sharing a cup and donut and more talk, she leaves, but not before tucking a dollar into my hand. Our FIRST cash donation!

George comes up to the front yard where we’re all hanging out, waving the flyer – thanks, again, Connie! – wanting to know if this is the place. Yes, it is George – the “right place!” Cup of coffee and donut in hand, he settles down to check out a few copies of the various Catholic Worker newspapers we have from various CWs around the world. He wants to know what the difference is between the Byzantine and Roman Catholic churches and, actually knows quite a bit! I enjoy his company.

Ray drops by; he’s also lived in this neighborhood all his life and knows Jenn. His son, George (yes, another one), gets out the little gumball machine he’s brought and shares with the other kids.

Sometime, among all these goings on, an off-duty policeman and his wife pull up in their car. He’s heard that we’d be open today and wants to return the items stolen from the church. Will we be open for awhile? Oh, yes, we will be! An hour or so later, he and another policeman drive up in a truck with the tabernacle, a crucifix, and other things taken in theft from St Theodore a few months ago. One of the items is a full-size statue of Jesus,. One of the hands has been cracked and broken but that’s okay. The statue has been returned.

Still later, Anne, Max, Julie and Mimi, Julie’s daughter, arrive. Julie’s carrying our sign – “Alliance Catholic Worker” – and she and Mimi fasten it to the front door. We have now officially open! And now all who are looking, can find us!

The morning flies by. In just a few hours, we’ve met some incredibly generous people. Ray has offered to mow our grass (badly needed in the back yard which is a jungle and could be a wonderful place for kids’ play and picnics!), plus he’ll put our flyer up on the bulletin board where he lives. Jennifer offers to look into getting a good deal on hot dogs so we can have a cook-out in June and will let me know what she finds. And Ray says he’ll be back in June. Our neighbors aren’t looking for handouts; they want solidarity, they want to be a part of something good.

So – we came here and opened the doors, offering coffee and donuts. No plan other than to BE here, no “goals” other than to listen, no agenda other than one of humility. When we were done for the day, I think we all felt that we were in the best place we could have been. Jenn had said so; she said that she was glad that we were here, that there needed to be something to bring this neighborhood together. That there had to be a place of community.

Maybe it’s us. We’ll just keep being here and with lots of help, lots of donations, lots of prayers, perhaps we and our friends on Freedom Street really can help this hurting neighborhood heal.

Walk thru the doors of the CW and the first thing you see is the statue of the welcoming, “broken” Jesus. How appropriate: a broken Jesus for all of us broken people. Here, in this place of Jesus, we can all come together in his love, in his mercy, in his compassion.

By Aine Donovan