Author recounts experience with Catholic Worker
Kiera Johnsen | Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Rosalie Riegle, an author and alumna of the Saint Mary’s class of 1959, spoke Tuesday about her life and journey with the Catholic Worker for the Collegiate Speaker Series sponsored by the Career Crossings Office, the Department of Communication Studies and the Cushwa-Leighton Library.
Riegle said meeting Dorothy Day while working as a peace activist during the Vietnam War changed her life and initiated her activism in the Catholic Worker. She has written several oral histories of the Catholic Worker and one on Dorothy Day. She has also helped opened two Catholic Worker houses of hospitality.
Studying theology and church history at Saint Mary’s College planted the seed which sparked her decision later in life to join the Catholic Worker, Riegle said.
“The theology and church history just fascinated me because I just knew nothing about Catholicism,” she said. “My daily life and education has been secular, I had attended a public school as a teenager where I could always skip catechism. For many in my class, theology was same old same old; they had had 12 years of parish education. I just lapped it up.”
After graduation, Riegle married, had children and began teaching as an English professor, but although her life seemed to be flourishing, her heart lay elsewhere, she said.
“I was conflicted,” Riegle said. “My insides and outsides didn’t match and frankly sometimes at a parties I would feel really lonely. Lonely for community, to be with people who thought like I did, loneliness for likeminded souls.”
Her husband’s disapproval of her activism in the Catholic Worker caused her to throw herself into other work, to keep her mind off of the movement and save her marriage she said.
“For the next 15 or so years I buried my attraction deep inside a love of busyness, raising our four daughters, helping my husband become a judge, moving to a beautiful Georgian home in the suburbs and completing a doctorate at the University of Michigan,” Riegle said.
She said she got the idea to write a book on the Catholic Worker one day when interviewing students; however, with her marriage breaking, she struggled with how she could become more involved in the movement she loved.
“I found I had written myself into the movement, but I didn’t get it out of my head,” she said. “It became an increasingly uncomfortable ball in my throat, and I was pushed this way and that … The Catholic Worker became hot for me and my other interests became colder and colder. So when Sister Leona [Sullivan, a Catholic Worker based in Saginaw, Mich.] asked me to discuss forming a community, I jumped at the chance. We would provide hospitality to homeless women and children, I could do that.”
Riegle said becoming a Catholic Worker and opening a hospitality house was God giving her what she needed.
“Catholic Workers are not social workers, and they don’t need any training, in fact true Catholic Workers don’t work about changing people, we worry about changing ourselves,” Riegle said. “We named our community the mustard seeds … after much community preparation and sprucing up the house we moved in … For 10 years I lived with women from many different cultures, many of them suffering from addiction and neglect, all of them needed solace, food and shelter.”
The Catholic Worker is where Riegle said she feels most at home.
“The Catholic Worker is where my insides and outsides match, where I can live authentically,” Riegle said. “It’s definitely something I need and definitely something I didn’t know I needed when I was at Saint Mary’s or years later.
“When I say matching insides and outsides, I mean its where my souls and my actions are the most in sync; notice I didn’t say perfectly in sync. I have always felt a bundle of contradictions, but I finally learned to be happy with those ambiguities, particularly the ones I can’t minimize or make disappear.”
Riegle said it took her years discover her calling to the Catholic Worker and her advice to students was to discover their passions.
“Don’t do what is expected; do what you like,” she said. If you want to do something, I hope you have the courage to do it.”