116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When the Catholic Worker House opened in Iowa City in 2016, co-founder David Goodner told The Gazette “we’re just getting started.”
Five years later, the organization is poised to buy a second house — a 5,000-square-foot Victorian most recently serving as a bed and breakfast — to house immigrants and other people in need.
“When people are in that desperate situation where they have no where to go, it’s so difficult to turn them away,” said Kim Novak, a volunteer for the Catholic Worker House. “But we’ve been at max capacity at the Sycamore Street house for so long.”
The new house at 113 S. Johnson St. will more than double the Catholic Worker House’s overnight capacity and provide a second hub closer to the jobs and services in downtown Iowa City.
“It’s going to feel really good to help a few more of these people,” Novak said.
The house they are buying is now called the Burford House Inn, a 1903 house previously owned by artist Byron Burford and his wife, Kay.
Mark McCallum, 61, bought the house in 2013 and renovated it over a year before opening it as a bed & breakfast in 2014. He added bathrooms to each of the five guest rooms and updated wiring, plumbing and heating and air conditioning systems, The Gazette reported in 2016. He turned the attic into a suite, complete with a small living room, kitchenette and a gas fireplace.
“There are seven bathrooms in the house,” McCallum told The Gazette this week. “There are not that many seven-bathroom houses in town.”
When McCallum listed the house earlier this year, he wasn’t sure who would be interested in such a unique property. McCallum also renovated and operated the Brown Street Inn for several years.
Although McCallum kept the Burford House Inn afloat financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a time for reflection after four family members contracted the virus.
“I was revisiting my faith and had started praying again for those family members,” he said. “It was kind of weird, the one active person coming to look at my (for sale) house was affiliated with the Catholic Church.”
McCallum learned about the Catholic Worker mission, which involves volunteers providing their communities with works of mercy, including feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless and visiting the sick and imprisoned.
In recent years, the Catholic Worker House has become a respite for immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Africa and elsewhere.
“Our goal with immigrants is we have them until they have an opportunity to set their kids up in schools, understand transportation, understand where they can work. That sometimes can take a year,” Novak said. “This does become their home for a year while we assist them with those services.”
The house also is open several days a week for showers, laundry and meals for other needy Iowa City residents.
Catholic Worker volunteers have become vocal advocates for providing COVID-19 relief aid to undocumented workers and others who have not been eligible for earlier rounds of funding.
McCallum realized Burford House Inn, with space on the first floor for gatherings, privacy for families and College Green Park right across the street, was the perfect fit for the Catholic Worker.
“They needed everything I did,” he said of his renovations.
Buying a property that costs nearly $1 million is a stretch for the Catholic Worker House, volunteers said. But the group paid off its first house at 1414 Sycamore St. in less than five years and has already secured most of the needed down payment for the Burford House. Large donations include $10,000 from Green State Credit Union and an unspecified amount from the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There still is about $175,000 to raise before the group closes on the new house Dec. 27. For more information, go to the Iowa City Catholic Worker website or contact the Community Foundation of Johnson County.
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