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, 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. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Don’t Call Me a Saint!

By Laurie Watson

We’re nearing the end of 2013 and it’s time for our annual appeal for continued support of the Winona Catholic Worker.  It’s been a year of hard work and stress for Matthew and me.  We saw friends (former live-ins at the Dan Corcoran House) move on to other adventures and at times felt alone in shouldering the responsibilities of keeping the Bethany House open.   In recent months, a friend asked me why it takes so many live-in volunteers (three) to run one of our houses when we have only four guests.  Another person who felt helpless to aid a homeless family asked when we were reopening the Dan Corcoran House.  Both of questions (which I myself asked before becoming a live-in volunteer) helped me realize that we need to do more to educate others about who we are and what it takes to keep one of our houses open.  And so follow the most common questions we hear about the Winona Catholic Worker…

  1. You’re run by the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities, right?  We are NOT overseen, governed, or funded by the Catholic Church.  Neither are we Catholic Charities nor are we affiliated with them.  Yes, it’s confusing because we have the word “Catholic” as part of our name.  The Catholic Worker movement was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin (both Catholic lay people).  Back in the Great Depression days, the Catholic Worker was a newspaper published by Dorothy Day and others in New York City. (The paper still exists today).  The paper’s purpose was to advocate for social justice, unionization of workers, and the rights of the poor.  The Catholic Worker movement evolved from there, with houses of hospitality springing up across the country.  The Catholic Worker’s tradition is founded on the Gospel’s mandate to perform the works of mercy (Matthew 25: 31-46) and Catholic social justice teaching.  That’s where the “Catholic” part comes in.

  1. All the live-in volunteers and the core community are Catholic, right?  Wrong again.  We are a diverse faith community rooted in the Catholic Worker tradition.  Over our history we have welcomed live-in volunteers who have come from many faith backgrounds.  Indeed, some have not identified with any faith.

  1. Who makes the decisions about finances and how the houses operate?  Major maintenance projects and purchases are decided by core community.  This group includes all present live-in volunteers, along with community representatives who commit to weekly meetings and have extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the houses.  Presently, core community members are Matthew Byrnes, Laurie Watson, and diane leutgeb munson.  Live-in volunteers make the decisions regarding the day-to-day operations of the houses.

  1. What are the responsibilities of live-in volunteers?  We do the same things you do in your own home --- cleaning, lots of washing dishes, house laundry (tons of bedding!), cooking, general maintenance and painting, errands, gardening, lawn care, snow shoveling, etc.  We pay bills and deal with emergency house repairs.  We also spend a considerable amount of time talking to student groups, potential guests and volunteers, and interested community members about the houses.  On top of this, we publish a newsletter several times a year.  In addition, we currently serve evening meals for as many as 25 people and provide emergency housing and hospitality to four men.  This means taking the time to be present to guests, listen to their struggles, and be a friend.

  1. How much do live-in volunteers get paid?  There’s a reason we’re called “volunteers”… we do not receive any financial compensation for the work we do.  We each have a modest bedroom and eat what’s available in the house.  When we leave community we are given a stipend amounting to $15.00 per month for each month we’ve been a live-in volunteer, provided the Catholic Worker bank account can accommodate that.  Some volunteers choose not to receive this stipend; others use this money to help with relocation expenses.

  1. How do you pay for your personal needs?  Many of us have part-time paid employment outside the houses.  We limit our paid work to fifteen or fewer hours per week so that we can attend to our guests and the work in the houses.  Paid work is a necessity for Matthew to repay student loans and for Laurie to pay a mortgage on a house that isn’t selling.

  1. You Catholic Workers are always so nice and accommodating…. Dorothy Day once said, “Don’t call me a saint!”  I echo Dorothy’s words.  Some folks think I’m a super woman for the work I choose to do.  Those who live with me know my human limitations.  I don’t feel so saintly when I say “no” to someone because I just don’t have the energy or patience or resources to provide for that need.  Nor do I feel very holy when I lose my cool with a guest because I’m tired or feeling overwhelmed.  I fall far short of sainthood.  Please don’t be surprised because I fail to be my best self all the time. I’m the same as you --- don’t elevate me to sainthood.  You’ll be disappointed….

  1. You can always help everyone who’s homeless, right?  Sorry, that’s not even close to being possible.  We have beds for four men in Bethany House.  When the beds are full, we turn people away.  Does that happen often?  YES!  Many Winonans assume that the needs of the homeless are being met by the Catholic Worker houses.  WRONG!  A handful of beds help a handful of people…the rest are left to fend for themselves. One of our most frustrating challenges is telling those seeking shelter that we do not have a bed for them.

  1. Will you be opening the Dan Corcoran House soon?  We need 2-3 more live-in volunteers before we can consider that.  Another key to reopening the Dan Corcoran House is community volunteers who will commit to joining us in the day-to-day work of the houses.  It truly takes a village to raise a child and a large community to support families in crisis.

  1. All this sounds exhausting!  How can I help?  So glad you asked!  Look further in this newsletter for a listing of volunteer opportunities at Bethany House!