Catholic Worker House opens in Iowa City

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On July 2, a group gathered to celebrate a first-of-its-kind house in Iowa City.

The night before, community leaders received the keys to the residence at 1414 Sycamore St., which is set to become the city’s first Catholic Worker House.

“This is a community house,” David Goodner, a leader spearheading the project in Iowa City, said at the ceremonial blessing of the house with 20 people in attendance. “It’s yours as much as it’s anyone’s.”

Though not affiliated with a specific Catholic church, the house is part of movement started during the Great Depression by Dorothy Day. The premise of the Catholic Worker movement is to have volunteers provide their communities with the works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and visit the imprisoned, Goodner said.

“You see a historical Jesus that brought a movement of people,” Goodner said. “Catholic Workers are called not just to believe in the word of Jesus, but to follow in his footsteps.”

The Rev. Rudolph Juarez said that despite differences in political beliefs, helping to serve the marginalized is something most people agree on.

“Those are very basic humane things we can all assist with,” said Juarez, pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City. “We have people in our midst that are in need — it’s important that we assist them.”

The Catholic Worker House members plan to provide food, basic living materials such as socks or haircuts, and eventually short-term shelter. Migrant workers are one of the first groups they hope to house, so those laborers can send their wages home to family rather than spending it all on living costs, Goodner said.

The organization provides other volunteerism services as well, he noted.

“It takes a special calling to be open to that vocation,” said Kent Ferris, director of social action and Catholic charities for the Diocese of Davenport. “David is mindful of the community’s needs and wants to be a part of the solution.”

Part of the movement involves people who live in voluntary poverty.

They volunteer at the house in exchange for room and board. Many work part-time jobs to make money for additional living expenses, Goodner said.

He was one of these workers at the Catholic Worker House in Des Moines for six years.

“It showed me an authentic way to live,” Goodner said.

But the movement also requires many volunteers who aren’t living in the house.

“The name is Catholic Worker, but we’re getting volunteers to sign up from all across the spectrum,” Goodner said, adding that the movement is grounded in religious principles, but the service is not meant as a conversion mechanism.

Led by Goodner, a small group started talking with local leaders to determine the feasibility for the project.

After determining the project was feasible, the group brought it into the public light in May.

With support from local parishes and citizens, the group was able to make the $40,000 down-payment on the house and have $30,000 remaining for the initial service and refurbishments. Additionally, more than 250 people have signed up to be volunteers.

“We’re just getting started,” Goodner said.

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