Nora Leider has been a resident of the Tacoma Catholic Worker community for the past six years, involved in a variety of the community’s activities, including helping guests transitioning from homelessness to develop strategies toward greater relational and financial independence, advocating for fair, affordable housing and mixed income communities in downtown Tacoma, and managing the community’s organic garden. Continuing on the theme of family in community, Nora and I discuss her journey of becoming wife and mother within the context of discerning and becoming a core community member. She describes the lessons she’s learned along the way in negotiating boundaries and establishing balance between community and family life, and the importance for her of living in a faith community that combines addressing immediate needs with working for systemic change. Nora also shares how the consensus process has led her to a deeper trust and openness toward others’ intentions, perspectives, and insights, and offers an encouraging word for young families discerning a call to life in community.
The Tacoma Catholic Worker grew out of a movement of houses of hospitality initiated by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York City in the 1930s. Combining the practice of welcoming the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the marginalized as Christ (Matt. 25:31-46) with a social vision embracing anarchist and pacifist principles, the Catholic Worker movement has since taken on many and varied expressions, with over 180 Catholic Worker communities in the United States at present.
Founded in 1989 with the initial intention of opening their doors to provide emergency shelter for the neighborhood’s homeless, the Tacoma Catholic Worker community soon found itself overwhelmed by the sheer number of slumbering people about the house each night. Reflecting on this experience and recognizing that Tacoma already had facilities for emergency shelter, the community decided that offering transitional housing for those seeking to get off the streets was a more effective, needed service that they could more manageably offer. Many singles, families, and women recently released from prison have all found help and home in the ensuing years.
Today the community is comprised of eight houses, with approximately fifteen permanent members, plus children, alongside temporary guests, residents, and interns. In addition to transitional housing, Tacoma Catholic Worker hosts weekly open houses including liturgy and a communal meal, shares the yield of their organic garden, offers showers and phone services, and engages in local advocacy on issues that affect the neighborhood’s poor and marginalized residents. Tacoma Catholic Worker is also a center of activity for Disarm Now Plowshares, organizing nonviolent actions in protest of the nearby Trident submarine base in Bangor, which houses more than 2,000 nuclear warheads, the largest single stockpile in the United States.
What I appreciate about Nora’s reflections is that, while her story may not be as dramatic as that of Craig Greenfield’s—nothing approaching taking small children in tow from Cambodian slums to one of the most destitute neighborhoods in the Western world—she manages to capture in a simple, accessible way the value of community for families and children, and for finding meaningful engagement with the people, the challenges, the hopes, fears, and dreams embodied in an inner city neighborhood. Like Servants Vancouver, the Tacoma Catholic Worker witnesses in a deliberate way to the possibility of breaking down the stratifications—economic, relational, and otherwise—inherent in so much of modern urban culture. As communities of faith, each witness to the possibility of an intensification of following Christ, especially as he is to be found in one another and in the ‘least’ among us. As a young mother, Nora can insist that this work and witness is enriched by and enriching for children.
For more on the history of the challenge of Catholic Worker communities to accommodate families, see Dan McKanan, “Chapter 6: Inventing the Catholic Worker Family,” in The Catholic Worker after Dorothy: Practicing the Works of Mercy in a New Generation (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2008), 146-180.
Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.