Almost a dozen women, silent and bundled against the cold, line up every day on the stairs of an old music school on East Third Street, waiting to enter a brightly lighted cafeteria. Their faces, some tired, others tough, betray their hunger ‑ for food, friendship or just a break.
Those who serve them could be somewhere else. They come from money or comfort or have college degrees or a trade. Yet they, too, have an equally compelling need to be here, inside one of two houses of hospitality run by the Catholic Worker movement. Through their lives and labors, they continue the example of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who started it 71 years ago in this city.
They feed the hungry, comfort the grieving and denounce violence, not out of a sense of noblesse oblige but a stripped‑down commitment to living alongside the poor.
“I had a choice, but I believe we all came here because we had to,” said Amanda Daloisio, who has lived with her husband at the Third Street residence known as Maryhouse for two years. “Some need a place to sleep or food to eat. I needed to be here in order to live a life that I thought was meaningful and to discover how life can be lived rooted in the gospel.”
Yet doing those essential works of mercy is not easy in a city where acquiring things you do not need or cannot afford is portrayed as a seasonal if not civic virtue.
“It is very hard,” Ms. Daloisio said. “It is so in your face. You walk out the door and there are enormous billboards telling you to buy stuff and do stuff. It wears me down. I suppose being in this house is how I find some sanity and some hope, versus the endless consumption in New York City which could leave me utterly hopeless.”
Maryhouse, in the East Village, has a worn yet comfy feeling. Posters urging an end to the war in Iraq are taped to the wall, as are images of latter‑day icons like Cesar Chavez or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The quiet is broken by the tinkling of a piano, a knock on the door or the frequent ringing of a pay phone.
A big room on the first floor is dominated by thousands of newspapers rolled and tucked into mailing bins. This handmade operation is the heart of the place’s mission of publishing The Catholic Worker. While it is published only seven times a year now, the price is still a penny.
Printing and mailing the paper is perhaps the biggest single cost the group incurs. Earlier this year, when a series of unexpected bills put the group in a bind, a former volunteer placed a small notice in the Catholic magazine Commonweal seeking donations. Several volunteers noted that benefactors were kind enough to come forward. And that’s all the money they need at the moment, thank you.
With a steadfast reliance on Providence, they insisted that it would be wrong to seek more right now. Their group operates on the principle of doing the most you can with what you have. In the past, when they have had the good fortune to have excess funds, they have donated it to some or all of the more than 100 other Catholic Worker communities around the country.
It is just as much a hallmark that donations to the group are not tax‑deductible. They never sought tax‑exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service, a government agency that they feel has financed unjust wars. Besides, how can one say he or she has truly shared when the donation comes off taxes?
“Someone once told me charity is donating what you do not need,” said Matt Daloisio, Amanda’s husband, who gave up on joining his family’s construction business when he discovered the writings of Dorothy Day in college during the 1990’s. “The Catholic Worker deals in justice, returning to people what society stole from them.”
That also means doing it with a touch of personal commitment, which the workers hope will show ordinary New Yorkers how to help the less fortunate.