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Students discuss involvement with South Bend Catholic Worker House

| Friday, February 2, 2018

Junior Lucie Ly first volunteered at the South Bend Catholic Worker as a Notre Dame Vision mentor the summer after her freshman year. She enjoyed the service so much she made it a part of her routine the following year, and decided to stay at the women’s house over her sophomore year spring break.

“Basically, I cooked meals with them, I ate with them, whenever they went to the store I went to the store with them — I just did chores, just normal, everyday things but with this community of people,” Ly said.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 on the conviction that every person has the same human dignity, giving them the right to respect and love. This belief drove Ly’s desire to live in community for a week.

“I didn’t do that so much to volunteer as to really live with the women and experience what they experience on a daily basis because I saw a lot of ‘us versus them.’ Like they came in and saw these volunteers trying to be good people doing service and they kind of felt isolated from the Notre Dame students,” Ly said. “I didn’t want them to feel like I was trying to pity them or do charity work for them. I wanted them to see me as trying to be equals with them.”

According to an article in “Today‘s Catholic,” the South Bend Catholic Worker encompasses a men’s house and a women’s house, each of which houses 10 residents, and Our Lady of the Road, a drop-in center that includes laundry and shower facilities, a chapel and a dining area serving well over 100 people breakfast every weekend. Junior Sam Ufuah spends every Saturday morning at the drop-in center cooking and serving breakfast alongside the homeless, some of whom are volunteers themselves.

“A lot of them actually come from Hope Ministries, which is another community focused on helping people who are disadvantaged get opportunities for jobs and homes,” Ufuah said. “Some of them are volunteers themselves. They go to different shelters and help out despite not having homes, which is just incredible.”

The men’s and women’s houses eat dinner together every night of the week, sharing duties and spending time in community. Notre Dame professor Margaret Pfeil, who co-founded the South Bend Catholic Worker in 2003 with former professor Michael Baxter, is an integral member of that community, Ly said.

“She lives in the house next to the men’s house, and sometimes she has guests stay at her house as well, she lives with her husband,” Ly said. “Whenever she doesn’t have conferences or meetings, she tries her best to be eating with the guests. She knows all her guests very intimately, she goes to the drop often and works there, she’s just a very active member. She’s not just up there on the administrative level taking care of everything — she’s actually involved in the work.”

That work includes helping the residents find jobs, but never with the impression that this is their last chance, Ly said.

“[Pfeil] is a great resource,” Ly said. “She’ll be a good recommender for them for certain jobs and she really encourages them to find work and get them on their feet, but the Catholic Worker is there as a support for as long as they need it.” 

Both Ly and Ufuah said the South Bend Catholic Worker truly embodies the vision of the larger organization.

“It’s really neat because not just volunteers come — people just come to have dinner, it’s a community and these people are friends,“ Ly said. “When I first started working there it was hard for me to distinguish who was a staff member and who was a guest because they all lived very similarly.” 

Ufuah said he was inspired by a quote from Dorothy Day in the backroom at Our Lady of the Road while volunteering his sophomore year.

“She said something like, sharing yourself with the poor is love because there comes a point where you and that category is blurred and there’s no longer a category, it’s just you and your brother, you and your sister,” Ufuah said. “I really took that to heart because we tend to categorize people based on whatever attributes, but underneath all that is just humanity, it’s just man and I think being there has helped me develop that in my heart.”

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