Discovering the Tacoma Catholic Worker

by Mark Votava


After about five years of living in Downtown Tacoma, I started to become more curious about the poverty in our parish.  I asked myself, “Who are the poor and what are people doing to be in relationship with them in our neighborhood?”  I soon learned about the Tacoma Catholic Worker which was a few blocks from where I was living.

  • 8 houses and a community garden all within one block

The community was founded in 1989 when a Jesuit priest named Bill Bichsel, who is now 86 years old, and some other friends wanted to care for those with mental illnesses in the neighborhood.  The Catholic Worker consists of eight houses and a big community garden all within one block.  Our Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship was (and is) so inspired by their commitment to proximity within the parish and the poor among us!

  •  Making space to be more present in everyday life

As I studied the writings of Dorothy Day and New Monastic writers like Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, I was so intrigued by their emphasis on hospitality and their understanding of community as a way of life.  I wanted to make space in everyday life to be more present to the poor in our neighborhood, to understand their uniqueness and listen to their voices.  I was convinced that this is where I would find Christ residing in the lives of the homeless, the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless, the mentally ill, and the addicted.

  •  Seeing Christ in the poor

My leadership began to take a new shape as I was drawn to see Christ in the poor in everyday life, to share life with them, to become their friends, to love them and learn their names.  What a powerful movement this was of God in my life, to lead me to care for the poor, to work less so that I could be more present to them by making space within my way of life.

  •  Moving to the Catholic Worker in September 2010

I wanted to be with the poor, so I asked some of my new Catholic Worker friends what I would have to do to become a Catholic Worker.  Moving into one of their houses intrigued me a lot.  They soon made space for me to practice my faith among the poor in community with them.  I moved into one of their houses at the beginning of September 2010.

  •  A way of life based on simplicity, love, compassion, justice, and hospitality

This has been an amazing experience for me!  It is what I believe God had been leading me to and I have found something that resonates deeply within me.  The Catholic Workers promote a way of life that is based on simplicity, love, compassion, justice, and hospitality.  I have now been at the Catholic Worker for about four years, and I have learned so much from the poor of our neighborhood.

  •  Making space within myself for the poor

Their uniqueness is always speaking to me.  Christ is teaching me to follow him by having a more simplistic way of life where I make space within myself for the poor as an act of hospitality.  Seeing Christ in the poor in everyday life is helping me to understand what life is without the illusions of escaping what is hard.  Our Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship is learning so much about making space in our lives for the poor among us through collaborating with the Tacoma Catholic Worker.

Where do you find God working within you in your own context?