Welcome to the Winona Catholic Worker

We are a Christian faith community living in the tradition of the Catholic Worker movement and committed to community, voluntary poverty, hospitality, stewardship, nonviolence, and faith.

We welcome our sisters and brothers in need, serving them as "ambassadors of God." We place our trust in God's providence, relying entirely on the generosity of many individuals, groups, and churches to support our work. We are not tax-exempt, nor do we receive any government funding, because we believe that we are called to do the Works of Mercy at a personal sacrifice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

An Open Letter to Our Friends

Dearest Friends,

Greetings!  In lieu of our traditional newsletter we have chosen to send you a more personal note  this month.  We realize that those of you who receive our mailings are deserving of an update about our community, and equally as important, we need to be reminded of your spiritual and emotional support for our work.

As you have read over the past months our community has struggled to attract and retain live-in volunteers to run our homes.  Though we have shared this struggle in writing, there are often not words to describe the intimate nature of how our community functions.  Indeed, we are more akin to a family than an organization, guided by common values and relationships instead of a board of directors.  For over 22 years our community has survived, often thrived, in this Catholic Worker model, which has its roots in New York City in the 1930's.  We have weathered some storms but always lived to tell the tale.  This summer has proven to be one of our greatest hurdles yet, and this letter the mere beginning of a tale we are still writing.

For some months now we have put considerable effort into reaching out to friends and supporters to join us in the daily work of hospitality; this has yielded some beautiful results.  Providing  a welcoming space for our guests, however, has lately proven to be one of our lesser challenges.  When an intentional community is at its best it requires effort to maintain and yet functions as a renewable energy source for those involved.  We have not been healthy as a group and thus quickly burned through our reserves, losing members along the way.  In the midst of our struggles we said goodbye to Laurie Watson who has been at the heart of our community for more than four years, often carrying much of the load herself.  Her guidance and insight has long helped us set our course and though we miss her dearly she remains connected to our community while taking well deserved time for rejuvenation.

We found that the deeper we sank, the harder it was to reach out for help.  The delicate art of building community is multi-faceted and, to many, intangible, but when it works well we create a life-giving space out of which we offer hospitality to those in need.  Having come through some monumental challenges, our community is currently comprised of three people, none of whom live in the house, but all of whom have been deeply connected to the house for years.
In spite of the darkness we have seen and the daunting tasks that lay ahead there is light and hope on the horizon.  The future of the Winona Catholic Worker is becoming clearer with each passing day.  The energy and enthusiasm that permeates the evening meals at the Bethany House is palpable.  Perhaps the single most telling sign of the vitality of the Winona Catholic Worker is the amount of interest we have seen from volunteers.  You may have seen Amy at the Bethany House -- we are blessed to have her as an intern during this time of transition (and we are in discernment with her about a longer term commitment).  We also currently have a calendar stacked with hospitality hosts as well as cooks and we are in conversation with six potential live-in volunteers.  And yet, there is so much more to be done!
If you are interested in joining us during this exciting time of rebuilding, please contact us by phone (507-454-8094) or email (winonacatholicworker@gmail.com).  We are specifically seeking people to make regular, ongoing, weekly or monthly commitments, such as:
-Helping with chores around the house (cleaning, laundry, errands, etc.)
-Organizing work groups to assist with larger projects that have been on hold
-Joining us for our evening meals
-Making financial contributions

We cannot express how much your support means to our community at this time.  Whether you are someone who keeps us and our guests in your prayers, or you are a regular financial donor, or you are a former volunteer with our community, we could not have come through all of this without you.  We know that we are not alone and that because of you our guests and friends will continue to have a place to come and share a meal.  We are sincerely looking forward to the coming months and years because we know that this work is important, not only for our guests but for all of us.  The Catholic Worker holds within it a little gem that feels like both a miracle and magic.  It has great power when it gets taken out of the linen closet and dusted off.  In this moment in our community the miracles abound and the magic is spreading like wildfire.

In gratitude,
WCW Core Community
Melissa Gordon, mike and diane leutgeb munson

"We cannot love God unless we love each other.  We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.  Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.  We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community."  (Dorothy Day)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March, 2014 Newsletter

by diane leutgeb munson

Participating in non-violent civil disobedience is an opportunity to put ones thoughts and convictions into practice.  It is a moment in time where you can truly speak through your actions.  In the same way, bringing a criminal case into the courtroom provides a challenge to explain ones actions- all that brought you to that place in time and all that you hoped to achieve in those moments.  In the case of our recent frac sand trial the collective story of our group was so raw and so faith-filled it effortlessly flowed through the overcrowded courtroom. Those who gave voice to our story did so eloquently and compellingly.  They spoke truths about corporate power and environmental degradation.  They reminded all of us how committed we are to true justice. 

During the first week of February the Winona County Courthouse was converted into an adjunct Catholic Worker House.  As thirty-five people faced misdemeanor trespass charges and prepared to present their case to a jury of their peers, the halls of an otherwise somber building came to life.  There were scores of people, friends, supporters, defendants, attorneys and members of the press all around.  Each afternoon “picnic” lunches appeared in the lobby and were offered to all.  Rarely is there cause for such joyous spirit in a place so heavy with stories of violence and crime, so full of judgment and penalties. 

Though the mood was light, the attitude was serious and thoughtful.  We had come to bring closure to a case that began in April of 2013.  At the conclusion of the Faith and Resistance Retreat that was hosted by the Winona Catholic Worker, there was an opportunity for people to participate in a direct action.   We were calling for an end to frac sand mining and hydraulic fracturing by literally shutting down two businesses that process and ship frac sand in Winona.  Over 100 people were present at the two sites that warm spring morning, with thirty-five people refusing to leave the properties.  Those thirty-five were subsequently arrested and charged with trespass. 

The group of defendants chose to pursue their case to trial in lieu of accepting a plea deal.  In a misdemeanor case a defendant is guaranteed a six-person jury trial, unless they waive that right.  Though we never refuted the fact that we trespassed on private property, we did argue that we had an obligation to be there.  We chose to go to trial in order to share our concerns and seek positive change within yet another branch of government.  With the generous help of local attorney Mr. Richmond McCluer and his assistant Mickey, we were able to consolidate our cases and prepare for one trial as a group.

Due to the complexity and rarity of trying thirty-five people at once, the process was admittedly slow and sometimes tedious.  The entirety of the first day of trial was spent selecting the jury.  Questions were asked of sixteen people, each of whom spoke to their background and interests, their work and hobbies.  When asked about the issue of frac sand mining, most admitted that they had not been paying much attention to the news.  At the end of the day the defense and the prosecution each had the opportunity to remove various members of the jury until only eight remained (which included two alternates).  Proceedings could now officially begin.

Day two of trial was in the hands of the prosecution who called ten witnesses, including the affected business owners and many of the law enforcement officers who had reported to the sites.  The monotonous details required to prove that a law had been broken were lightened by unsolicited recollection of details like “there were babies crawling around on the ground,” and “all of the protestors were very respectful and polite,” and “some were singing.”  As we listened to the testimony we also prepared to take the stand. 

The opportunity to bring this issue to the courtroom was unique and daunting.  Over the course of the last two and a half years the grave concerns regarding the frac sand industry have only increased.  Through impassioned testimony by multiple defendants over the course of a day and a half, many of those concerns are now officially recorded in court documents.  More importantly, eight people who claimed to have little knowledge or understanding of frac sand, heard about the threats to our water and land, our families and our community.  The jury listened to the stories of what our group had done to confront this industry through all of the channels of government and community organizing and why we felt this action had become necessary.  The entire courtroom also received a primer in Catholic Worker history and philosophy, our unwavering commitment to non-violence, and our sincere sense of personal responsibility for the world around us.

After only a few hours of deliberation the jury returned with the verdicts.  Each person’s was read separately and each one was guilty.  The judge then allowed each defendant a chance to speak before he issued a sentence.  Most of the group attested to living in voluntary poverty and spoke to a moral opposition to paying restitution to the affected companies.  Nonetheless, restitution was in fact a part of the sentence, along with court costs and one year of unsupervised probation.  Despite what appeared a negative outcome, there was a victorious feeling outside the courtroom where we gathered to debrief.  This had been a long road, and yet it felt like we were just taking the first steps towards something much bigger.  And so, we stood together in a circle, silently took the hands of those at our sides and bowed our heads.  As the spirit wove itself through our group we knew that we were indeed guilty, guilty of caring for our community and our earth with unabashed passion.  Yes, the trial is over but we have only just begun.  


Both during and following our trial the generous outpouring of support for our group and for our work was humbling.  Upon conclusion of the court proceedings numerous people eager to help us cover the court costs that were a part of our sentence immediately approached us.  Cherie Hales and Doug Nopar began organizing a fund to collect the $1,700 that would cover each defendant’s court fees (this does not include the restitution payment).  We are incredibly grateful for the wider community support of our action and take every chance to applaud the countless other groups and organizations that have worked tirelessly on this issue, especially Citizens Against Silica Sand Mining (CASM) and the Land Stewardship Project (LSP).  We are truly all in this together and are each doing our part to keep the driftless region healthy and free of frac sand mining. 

By Matthew Francis Byrnes

The Bethany House is currently only offering meals.  We are not able to do overnight emergency housing at this point due to lack of volunteers.  We are down to two live-in volunteers again.  We had a third volunteer for a couple of months, but he discerned that living in a Catholic Worker house of hospitality was not his calling.

Closing the house in the middle of winter has been a very heavy decision for us.  It’s especially tragic because there are no other emergency housing options in Winona.  Even when we are fully running, our two houses cannot even begin to fully address the needs of people experiencing homelessness in Winona.

The general consensus among Catholic Workers, both local and national, is that it takes three live-in volunteers to run a house of hospitality sustainably.  In past times of having only two live-in volunteers the Winona Catholic Worker has focused on meals and not been open to overnight hospitality.  A little over a year ago, Laurie and I decided to forge ahead and keep the house open to both dinner and overnight guests.  The stress of running the house on low numbers was compounded by our need to work many hours outside of the house (being a live-in volunteer is an unpaid position). After nearly a year of running the house as a two-person community, we have decided that we aren’t able to provide good overnight hospitality to guests without more volunteers.

The Winona Catholic Worker values providing people with quality housing and camaraderie over simply providing a floor for people to crash on.  The focus is on the quality, not just the quantity, of hospitality.  This comes from the history of the Catholic Worker Movement and the focus on autonomy and “gentle personalism.”  For this reason, we consider our houses to be “houses of hospitality” rather than shelters.  Reopening the house to overnight guests is a priority of ours, but we can’t do it alone.  After a many long core community meetings, we came up with a list of tangible things needed (both those we lack and those we already have) to run emergency housing in one house:

Three live-in volunteers: right now we have two.

Fifteen monthly cooks: we are fortunate to currently have enough wonderful cooks!

Three regular weekly helpers: we have one person who regularly helps “take shifts” and clean at the house.

House repair help: we are grateful to have a number of people that we can call on to help with repairs and house projects.

Financial contributions: we run entirely on donations.  While we live simply and keep our expenses low (well under 30,000 a year to run two houses), the Dan Corcoran house will need some major repairs in the near future.

We have also been in the process of discussing how to alter how we do things to encourage more people to become live-in volunteers and to better retain current live-in volunteers.  We are considering a wide range of options, from changing how we do hospitality to possibly selling a house.  We are not interested in changing our commitment to solidarity with people experiencing homelessness, our ability to speak out against injustice wherever we see it, our autonomous consensus decision making process, and our roots in lived spiritual practices and the Catholic Worker Movement.

The road towards justice is always uphill.  Dorothy Day wrote, “what we would like to do is change the world--make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do.”  As the size of our community waxes and wanes, we do what we can with however many volunteers we have.  We deeply regret not being able to consistently provide housing for homeless people.  The last year has been a hard one for our community, but we have faith that volunteers will come and we will be able to provide housing again.

Taylor Richmond
August 3, 1989- October 31, 2013

by diane leutgeb munson

The Winona Catholic Worker lost a dear friend last fall when Taylor “Tate” Richmond passed away.  Tate’s involvement in our houses began when Michael and I became live-in volunteers.  We had started providing personal care for Tate upon the invitation of his mother, Nikki Richmond, a secretary at St. Mary’s University, while we were students on the campus.  As we transitioned into the Catholic Worker he was often along for the ride.  It was not long before he began requesting to go to the houses in the afternoon as he had formed relationships with many of the guests and clearly found it to be a place where he fit well. 

Taylor lived with a debilitating genetic disease, Ataxia Telangiectasia, which kept him confined to a wheelchair and made him increasingly dependent on others as the years went by.  For that very reason, he held a special place in our home.  Many of our guests gravitated towards Tate, fascinated by what he could do despite his crippling disability and eager to understand why he always seemed so content.  Taylor, in turn, was often curious about the lives of the men living in our home and the families that came to share dinner with us. 

He and his family grew to be avid supporters of the Catholic Worker, contributing in countless ways to the work of our homes.  Taylor’s father, Nick, donated his time, expertise and equipment to help us build a handicap accessible ramp on the back of the Bethany House, which allowed Taylor and other guests to more easily use our home.  Taylor’s mother Nikki often dropped off leftover food from St. Mary’s functions and Taylor himself regularly donated clothing and shoes to our guests.   

Over the course of the nearly eight years that we provided care for Tate we encouraged a number of other live-in volunteers to work with him, further deepening his connection to our community.  The path between the Catholic Worker and Taylor’s home in Cochrane, WI was well worn.  He was often humored by the multitude of ways that our life differed from his- he was a rural guy who loved country music, big trucks, fast cars, fast food and money!  Our many differences never seemed to interfere with our friendship and love for one another. 

Taylor occupied mysterious territory in this world.  His mortality was always at the front and center, for him and for the people around him.  He lived the way we all do, seeking joy and comfort and love.  He also lived with the reality that he would leave many people behind with aching hearts and grieving souls.  He deeply wanted to know that we would all be ok when he was gone, but the hole he has left will not be filled by another.  Indeed, our homes and our hearts will heal slowly, with time, but will likely never be quite the same.


Prayers for the needs of our community

Live-in volunteers

Volunteers to help with hospitality and house coverage

Volunteers to help paint rooms

Pantry and perishable food items, especially canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, spaghetti

sauce, honey, table salt, cooking oil, fresh cabbage, onions, fresh fruit, milk

Household needs include dish washing soap, toilet paper, vinegar for cleaning

Straw bales

Layer feed (for chickens)


Laurie: I’ve recently finished The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It’s a great winter read! Dostoyevsky weaves an intriguing tale of suspense, soap opera drama, lust and malice, compassion and sacrifice, set in the mid 1800’s in Russia. The story centers on the three Karamazov brothers and their less than loving father. Interestingly, the story mimics some key details of the author’s own life. It also speaks of the changing philosophy, religious ideas and politics of the time.

Matthew: I won an awesome mug for participating in the Winona Public Library’s Hot Reads for Cold Nights program!  

diane: I just started reading Wendell Berry’s A Place on Earth.  Reading a Berry book feels like cuddling up next to a fire in winter or sipping lemonade in summer.  His cadence and vocabulary are somehow familiar and comforting as though he was my grandfather in another life.  I am looking forward to a couple of weeks with Berry’s elegant prose to ease me into the spring season of planting.