One book led to another, and another led to approximately 45 books on Dorothy Day. Anne Haines, who serves as the Executive Director/Episcopal Representative at Urban Initiative Milwaukee, remembers almost an insatiable desire to learn all she could about the woman, who, with Peter Maurin, founded The Catholic Worker Movement amid the Great Depression. Becoming involved with the movement has tugged at Haines’s heart since her early 20s.
“I spent some time as a volunteer at Casa Maria Catholic Worker in the 1980s,” Haines said. “However, I was a single mom with a 2-year-old, and I did not feel it was what was being asked of me at that time. For the next 30 plus years, I was married and raised six children. I read anything I could get my hands on about Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker Movement. I also wrote my master’s thesis on the prophetic voice of Dorothy Day and visited Catholic Worker Houses in Los Angeles, San Antonio, San Francisco and even the ‘motherhouse’ in New York.”
When the Capuchin Franciscans offered St. Conrad Friary on Second and Burleigh to Haines as a home for the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House, she would realize her dreams. The School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) built the expansive home for the nuns who taught at the former St. Elizabeth School, currently St. Martin de Porres Parish.
“I am not sure if it is a coincidence, but they are the remarkable women who taught and formed both of my parents and, for a number of years, my older brothers. My parents met, were married, and baptized all of us Haines kids in this beautiful parish that stands next to the future St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House,” Haines said. “I also had my oldest son Jesse baptized in this parish. The SSND work continues at Mount Mary, where a wonderful effort is underway to build housing for both the retired sisters and young single mothers who are attending college.”
The Capuchins acquired the home from the SSND to use for offices, a house and formation for 50 years. Their desire to keep the Catholic presence alive in the city is why Haines said they offered St. Conrad Friary to the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House.
St. Bakhita CWH already achieved its nonprofit status and formed a board that includes John Cary, who led the MACC fund for more than 35 years; Mary Sumlin Leach, who is the associate director of the Franciscan Peacemakers; Holly Ryan, who helped launch the Ozaukee County Jail Literacy program and is president of the Christ Child Society; and Frank Miller, who taught at Alverno and whose father served as Dorothy Day’s biographer.
As St. Bakhita is the patron saint of human trafficking and slavery, Haines said they are partnering with the Franciscan Peacemakers and their Clare Housing initiative to provide rooms for the women they bring to the program. Hospitality for the women of Clare Community who are survivors of sexual exploitation is a large part of the St. Bakhita mission. Haines added it made sense to dedicate the Catholic Worker House to this saint, as they are located in an area rife with human trafficking and exploitation. Choosing a saint who reflects this mission is logical to Haines.
By collaborating with the Franciscan Peacemakers, who provide individual therapeutic activities for the residents, St. Bakhita House will help provide safe housing and a supportive spiritual community needed to enhance successful healing.
“We will provide the housing (and) a spirit of hospitality, and help to create a spirit of love and community for women survivors,” Haines said. “We also have office space to host additional services and are in dialogue with people and institutions with regards to this opportunity.”
Like Dorothy Day, Haines will reside at St. Bakhita House. Those in the Catholic Worker Movement strive to live a life of poverty and solidarity with those Christ most identified, Haines said — those in poverty and on the margins.
“None of this makes sense unless I live at St. Bakhita House,” Haines said. “While briefly staying at Maryhouse in New York in 2010, I realized that much of what I was doing, such as dishes and laundry, was what I did at home with my children. My children are very excited that their old mom is living out this call in the next stage of the journey. I am really blessed.”
Residents will have a bedroom and additional living space, and an open invitation to other activities going on in the house, such as prayer, education, retreats and gardening, as well as being part of a loving and caring community.
“We plan on hosting community meals, recreational activities and any other activity you might find in a strong and loving family,” said Haines, adding that she hopes the community reflects Day’s vision.
“She took Christ on his word. Catholic Workers are called to truly believe and live what Christ was trying to tell us in the Sermon on the Mount. And the Catholic Church, with all its human faults, has exemplified this when taking it seriously, too,” Haines said. “Peter Maurin spoke of the Catholic Worker as a synthesis of ‘Cult, Culture, and Cultivation.’ We hope to build on this foundation and live a robust life of prayer and liturgy (Cult). We are blessed to have a beautiful chapel on our second floor. Dorothy Day’s Benedictine roots created a prayerful rhythm to her day, which she always tried to share with those with whom she lived. She also stressed the importance of the Mass. She was known to tell her fellow Catholic Workers, ‘If you are not going to Mass, you are not doing the work.’”
While neither prayer nor Mass will be required of anyone living at the Catholic Worker House, Haines said all are welcome, regardless of faith tradition or those with no faith at all.
As the executive director of St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House, Haines will lead and administer education and community-building programs on a budget of approximately $140,000 per year.
While St. Bakhita House is Catholic, they are unaffiliated with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee or any other official arm of the Catholic Church. The organization will be supported by individual and foundation donors. To find out more about gifts, monthly giving plans and volunteering opportunities, visit www.bakhitahouse.org.