Living Our Faith


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.



Work at Maryhouse is a lot easier in many ways since no one gets a salary. Some of the volunteers live elsewhere, opening up space for those who are less fortunate.
Matthew Tessitore, a retired florist who has been coming around here for at least 14 years, said it was easy for him to serve food, mop floors or just listen to the women who came seeking help. He has grown old with them. He has watched some of these people struggle with addiction or mental illness, gently trying to get them into programs with varying success.

He keeps trying.

“Doing the works of mercy is a real test of Christianity,” he said. “Loving people. Forgiving people, no matter how many times you have to do it.”

The same could be said of the workers’ protest marches along the familiar route from the Isaiah Wall opposite the United Nations to the military recruiting station in Times Square. On Dec. 6, they did one such silent procession to mark the second anniversary of the death of Philip Berrigan, the former priest and activist who spent years in jail.

About a hundred people marched along 42nd Street, including Philip’s brother Daniel, a Jesuit priest who lives in New York. They carried signs against the war, signs that denounced the treatment of Iraqi prisoners and banners that called for an end to violence.

“The interesting thing about doing silent marches in New York City is it leaves things open to reaction,” Mr. Daloisio said. "When you march and yell, people make up their minds fast. When you have a long line of people walking silently it gives people an opportunity to look and think.

Some passers‑by took their fliers and offered encouragement. Others took one skeptical look and kept walking. By Times Square, the rear of the line stopped to let a bedraggled man with filthy, matted hair stagger by. As they resumed their procession, two beefy men stood outside the ESPN Zone sports bar and restaurant and heckled them for being “sympathizers for the Iraqis.”

Within minutes, the group stood on the triangle by the recruiting station, where 29 of them were arrested for disorderly conduct. Father Berrigan and the Daloisios were among those arrested. For a change, Felton Davis was not.

Mr. Davis, who has been with the movement for 17 years, estimates he has spent about four years of his life in jail for various acts of civil disobedience. He grew up in suburban comfort but was drawn here when he decided it was time to look at how he lived and not just how he protested. As for many others here, protest is no more important than doing the less glamorous but very necessary household chores.

“Food needs to be cooked and served, there are people to be taken care of and demonstrations to mount,” Mr. Davis said. “And ultimately there is prayer. Most of us couldn’t do this and we certainly couldn’t go to jail without prayer, without the belief God cares for the world.”

The day after the protest, the routines continued at Maryhouse. The phone kept ringing and people kept knocking on the door. Nothing and no one was more important than anything or anyone else. Meals were served. Prayers were offered. Everyone was welcomed


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