Catholic group opens 'house for hospitality' in Alliance
CHARITA GOSHAY The (Canton) Repository
5:59 AM, Jun 24, 2013
ALLIANCE, Ohio - In 2012, the phone rang at Bishop John Michael Botean's office in Canton: It was an elderly parishioner from tiny St. Theodore's parish.
"She said `We've rolled our last cabbage roll; we can't do it anymore,"' Botean recalled.
It was the end of a chapter in the story of the Romanian immigrants who came to Alliance to work in its steel mills and factories.
"More and more parishes don't have the same kind of jobs that Romanians came here for 100 years ago," Botean said.
However, the head of Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton (Eastern Rite) said he saw the impending closing of St. Theodore's social hall as opportunity for a new outreach.
The old hall now houses the new Alliance Catholic Workers' Joshua Casteel House.
Botean said the house is all about "works of mercy."
"Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, doing as much as we can to serve people's needs," he said.
The hospitality house is affiliated with the Catholic Worker Movement, an international mission.
Botean said he consulted with several people who expressed interest in establishing a "house of hospitality" in Stark County, including Joseph Torma, a professor of theology at Walsh University in North Canton and a recognized expert on the late Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.
A journalist by profession, Day, who died in 1980, combined her conversion to Catholicism with a fervent push for social justice. Her works have placed her under consideration for sainthood by the Vatican.
The Alliance house is named after Joshua Casteel, an Iraq War veteran from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who served as an interrogator at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison, and who converted to Catholicism. Casteel became an author and international peace activist before dying at 32 from cancer in 2010.
Members of Casteel's family, and a granddaughter of Day, recently attended a dedication of the house.
Botean said they will seek input from neighboring residents and build relationships.
"They don't need a bunch of do-gooders coming in, telling them what's needed here," he said.
The house's supervisor, Tomas Murray, felt God's call to service from his youth in Belfast, Ireland.
"I thought the only way I could live out that calling was Catholic Workers Movement," he said. "A life of peace, nonviolence and voluntary poverty."
Wiry with hazel eyes and a face framed by a thick brown beard, Murray, 30, said he had long wanted to meet Botean, particularly after the bishop gained national attention for his 2003 pastoral letter voicing his opposition to the war in Iraq.
Murray was serving at a hospitality house in Toronto, Canada, when he heard that Botean, who was organizing the Alliance house, would be in Pittsburgh.
"By complete chance, or rather grace and providence, I was going to Pittsburgh for a day to visit my brother," Murray said.
After the two met, Murray had to fulfill a prior commitment to work at a house in London, but moved to Alliance in 2012 to become the first full-time staffer of the Joshua Casteel House.
He has been joined by Richard and Daniel Schmidt of Canton. The sons of a local pastoral worker, the Schmidts, 22 and 19, said they've been involved in Catholic social ministry all their lives. They learned about the Casteel House from their dad, Dave.
"We just went from there," Daniel Schmidt said. "When we heard something was starting here, we just showed up."
In March, the Joshua Casteel House started offering free community meals on Sunday afternoons. The house also hosts Bible studies and weekly discussions.
Murray and the Schmidts also have planted several community gardens and done "seed bombings" to cultivate flowers, and converted St. Theodore's churchyard into a community green space.
"Our hope is that the St. Theodore community takes ownership," Richard Schmidt said. "Some neighbors are already mowing it."
"It's a key part of our resistance in an age dominated by corporations," Murray said. "It's a start toward cultivating the land and getting back to basics."
Torma said Day searched until she found a way to merge her social concerns with her newfound faith.
"Dorothy Day had been a social radical who converted to Catholicism." he said. "But she felt a disconnect with what she wanted to do, and her new faith."
Torma said Day was introduced to the concept of "Personalism" by Peter Maurin, a French Catholic. Embraced by such philosophers as Immanuel Kant, Personalism emphasizes the value of the individual, helping people in their quest for spiritual and social development, and asking three basic questions: "What can I know?" "What ought I to do? "And what may I hope?"
"Since 1891, respect for workers wasn't protected," Torma said. "Maurin taught Dorothy Day about social policy."
Torma said there are about 200 American Catholic Workers hospitality homes in the U.S., and that there may have been a previous one in Stark County in the 1930s. The Catholic Worker Movement still publishes a newspaper started by Day in 1933 -- which still sells for one cent. The Joshua Casteel House also has a paper called "Dynamite," in reference to a Maurin essay, "Blowing the Dynamite."
Botean said the success of the house will not be quantitative.
"The outcome is not important; it's doing the work and leaving the outcome to God," Botean said. "It's accepting personal responsibility for treating people as God wants them to be treated. ... We're building for eternity. What happens is God's business."
"The power of our witness is all that we have," Murray said. "The only things we take with us when we die, are those things which are acts of mercy."
The Gospel's simplicity, Murray added, is the crux of the Catholic Workers Movement.
"A lot of what we do is counter-cultural," he said. "The call to follow Jesus in our culture, has consequences. For the most part, people don't have a problem feeding people. But it's the uncompromising allegiance to the `Sermon on the Mount,' in an age of perpetual warfare, which takes such a radical stance to love our enemies. It sometimes jars people."