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How can Husband and Wife work Together – How Dare you talk about Complementarity?

Our last issue was controversial in presenting complementarity as the choice of Dorothy Day, Sr. Prudence Allen, St. Hildegard of Bingen and Louise Yarian Zwick. It has raised further questions about the marriage relationship of the Editors of the Houston Catholic Worker.

Who is in charge? Who writes the articles?

The authors have known each other for thirty-five years and have been married for thirty years. We met on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1962, exactly thirty years after Dorothy met Peter Maurin. We complement each other in many ways.

However, there are those who jump to the conclusion that because we work as a couple, Louise must necessarily be taking second place or being oppressed if she doesn’t do exactly the same things that Mark does. Or that Mark is taking second place because of years of housework and child care.

Question: How did you get into all this in the first place, the Catholic Worker movement, serving the poor, the immigrant?

Louise: We have to start from the beginning. I became a convert to Catholicism through Mark. I had been searching for the meaning of life. When we first knew each other, he taught me everything I know about the Church, helping me to grow in faith, introducing me to some of the best theologians of this century (Karl Adam, F. X. Durwell, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, Louis Bouyer.) (He also gave me The Feminine Mystique to read.) He introduced me to the Catholic Worker movement, which he had known since he, as a seminarian, had read the Catholic Worker and visited Dorothy Day. From his family and his teachers Mark received a wonderful sense of Catholic tradition and culture and the lives of the saints, together with radical commitment to the Gospel of the Catholic Worker. Someone once commented that our paper has an authentic Catholic “feel” to it. That comes from Mark.

Q.: Mark, where did you get all these good books?

Mark: I studied philosophy and theology and in the seminary. There I met a man named Jim Clark, a Catholic Worker and CO in World War II who had made “The Retreat” that Dorothy Day speaks so much about and knew the “Hugo” priests. I made the retreat and my confessor was a Hugo priest who directed all these books to me. When I met Louise, all she had to study was Father Smith Instructs Jackson.

Q: You said you knew each other five years before you were married. Did you work together then?

Louise: We became closer friends as we worked with the poor and participated in the same liturgy and social action community.

Mark: We developed a neighborhood center and neighborhood council in a desperately poor area up North. It was all very much on the Catholic Worker model, no bureaucracy, and based on personalism.

Q: How did you start Casa Juan Diego when you had children? Did you do it together? What about the children?

Mark: We had each been working half-time to share time with our children and also have time to support the United Farm Workers or peace work. We had both gotten master’s degrees after we were married. I had a good job in mental health and we were financially somewhat secure before opting for half-time work. We had a four-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath house (Next was a cottage on the lake.) We didn’t want to commit our whole lives to professionalism, but hoped to find other ways to follow the Gospel, e.g., Catholic Worker. When we decided to change our life style we made the nod to Lady Poverty. Only a nod, because while we quit working for wages, we did not give up our savings–just in case there were problems. We used the children as an excuse.

But even the nod to Lady poverty was unacceptable to most people, since one should always try to make money and even, at times, as much as possible.

So in 1977 we sold everything we had and drove down to El Salvador to learn Spanish, learn about the Hispanic culture and about the small communities there.

Louise: Oscar Romero became archbishop while were were there. The war was beginning and priests were killed; church workers were in danger. Our time there was a challenge for the children as well with a new culture, but they learned Spanish and had an unforgettable experience living in a marginated, very poor area. Mark and I had un unforgettable experience in which our faith deepened as we experienced the Church standing with the poor under very difficult circumstances. We came to work in Texas as volunteers. In 1980 the refugees from Central American wars started pouring in and we knew we should start a Catholic Worker house.

Q: Who started Casa Juan Diego?

Louise: We were working at St. Theresa’s parish in Houston. When the refugees began pouring in, I applied for a job as a children’s librarian at Houston Public Library and while I was interviewing, Mark was praying that this work out and the possibility of starting the CW house here in Houston. That way we would have a salary to help with the children’s education and music lessons and not take money donated for the poor for them. I got the job. Mark was committed to cooking, cleaning, laundry and child care.

Mark: The only building I could find was on Washington Avenue and it was the ugliest building in Houston. I rented it and began making contacts in the community. Fr. Randall, pastor of St. Theresa’s, blessed it and surmised that we would need $40,000 to start. We had no money. The first month’s rent was paid by friends and the first guests were refugees from Central American wars, including a Nicaraguan who had been badly stabbed in the abdomen in Houston and needed to recover.

Q: Who started the newspaper?

Mark: When Marion Gallagher heard that the Houston Catholic Worker was started and wanted to put out a newspaper, she presented her daughter, Susan, to be the managing editor of ours. Susan had worked on the University of Houston Law School paper.

If there had been no Susan, there might not have been a Houston Catholic Worker newspaper–or certainly not of the same quality. Susan did the paste-up of the paper with Mark for eleven years.

We lived Susan’s life with her as she courted and married another lawyer, Andy Durham, who became a good friend of Casa Juan Diego and together they have two children. Thanks, Susan!

Louise: I always typed the copy and helped to edit. I also since the beginning played my guitar at our Wednesday evening liturgies in Spanish and met with Mark with women guests in the house. But in the early years I spent most of my time at the library, later becoming a branch manager. I also worked with the American Library Association, Booklist, and the School Library Journal in reviewing children’s books in Spanish and in helping to develop the children’s collections in Spanish at Houston Public Library. Later, when the children were on their own, I was able to leave the library and join Mark full-time at Casa Juan Diego.

Q.: Were you raised in families who taught traditional role models?

Louise: My mother was and is a feminist. I was raised with no gender stereotypes or divided role models for men and women. I was taught that I could do anything I wanted to do as a woman. I have, however, discovered that it is most important to temper that with following the will of God rather than my own.

Mark: My mother was a professional woman. There were no gender roles in my family of twelve children. Before going to play in a major high school football game the boys were expected to wash the dishes, make the beds and scrub the floors, even though there were seven sisters and a cousin in the house.

Q.: Why does Mark do more public speaking? That seems so unfair.

Louise: It is not only ironic, but very frustrating to me that poeple who believe women should have their own role and their own decision-making (and that the right to choose is almost sacred in itself, without any relationship to good morality), do not allow me the right to choose. When I say, I am not comfortable speaking to large groups, I prefer that Mark (who is very good at it) do that, these same people pressure me, and (at least mildly, sometimes outrightly) attack Mark for not allowing me to do it. Mark, who has listened to me for years tell him that I am very uncomfortable speaking to large groups, that it makes me miserable, does not pressure me, although he occasionally expresses the wish that I would do so. However, he loves me and so he lets it go at that.

Q.: Mark, why do you speak when people ask you to?

Mark: We sometimes speak together, but at other times Louise refuses to speak. Recently she had to practically carry me to a parish. I was very sick; she plied me with aspirins and coffee so she wouldn’t have to speak.

Actually, we speak because we believe the synthesis put together by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, including the ideas of many great saints, theologians and philosophers, has so much to say to Catholics and other Christians today. We feel a responsibility to share this. We also feel impelled to tell the stories of suffering immigrants that others may never hear.

Q.: But shouldn’t Louise speak even if she doesn’t want to, to give witness to the role of women?

Louise: Clearly, some people try to push other agendas by trying to push me. Arguments about women’s ordination and exactly the same roles for men and women are such a distraction to living the Gospel in our world, to responding to the needs of Jesus in the guise of the poor, including so many immigrant women. It has shocked me that some friends and acquaintances have taken the approach that if I don’t care to do certain things, that Mark must be an oppressor and I must have identified with the oppressor. How absurd!

Q: Who really writes the articles signed by M.L.Z., L.Y.Z. in the HCW? How do you write together?

Mark: Our writing comes out of our work and suffering with the poor, intersecting with theology and the Catholic Worker vision. What would appear as a burden with the constant interruption of emergencies, crisses and questions of the immigrants is really crucial in understanding and avoiding a dualism of life and thought. Our interaction with the poor keeps us rooted in the radical Gospel.

It would help to understand who writes what by considering our background. Louise was a musician, played in the high school band and received a music scholarship. I was captain of the football team, gave the speech at the annual Rotarian Sports banquet and received a football scholarship.

Generally, you can tell who is the football player and who is the musician when reading our articles. About the only sure thing is, if the subject is feminism, Louise will write it. If it has to do with critiquing social work agencies I will write it.

For years I wrote the “Dorothy Day’s Pilgrimage Continues in Houston columns. My challenge is to popularize great writers who don’t write for the general public. I don’t always succeed.

The most important thing that happens between us (Well, we mean in regards to the newspaper…) is the constant conversation that goes on throughout the day as articles develop. We both write and edit each other’s writing. The outcome is entirely new–and different–from what would have been written by just one person.

Q: Let’s take an example. How did the articles come about on the Baxter affair at Notre Dame? Where did the idea come from?

Louise: It didn’t come from me. Not having been raised a Catholic, I didn’t know that Notre Dame was of special symbolic significance in American Catholicism. I knew it had a football team, but I know next to nothing about football. To me, it was simply another Cathoic university. I may have vaguely heard about the Laetare Medal, but had no sense of its significance. I certainly didn’t remember that Dorothy Day had received it. I did know that Fr. Michael J. Baxter’s ideas were important in relation to the roots of the CW movement, its social ethics and its spirituality and that we did not want them to be rejected by major Catholic universities.

Mark: My father’s dream was to send all of his sons to Notre Dame at South Bend. (It was not coed then.) He died before it could happen. My brothers went to Jesuit schools and the University of Cincinnati. I went to graduate school close to South Bend at the University of Chicago. When a Notre Dame student visited when we were discussing the Baxter affaire, I asked her if she were taking any good theology classes. She shared that her friendd, Michael Hennessey, would be ghlad to write an article on Fr. Baxter’s class, “A Faith to Die For.”

Louise: I am a research librarian and was an English major. When it came time to go through Fr. Baxter’s articles (which we had read and discussed a couple of years before), I could be of help in choosing excerpts, editing, etc. I caught Mark’s exiting ideas and enthusiasm and we went with it, working together.]

Q: What do you enjoy about being Catholic Workers?

Mark and Louise: The work is very hard, day and night with the problems of poor immigrants who come to us. However, the work is also a joy, because we know it is the Lord himself who comes to us in the guise of the poor. Also, putting together the newspaper, while we have to do it in bits and pieces between all the practicalities (often at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m.), is most enjoyable. We do have special times for study and writing. During the week little writing can be done, but beginning Saturday at the 5:00 p.m. Mass we try to begin to pray over ideas. Then Sunday morning we study. Last weekend we tried to make sense of John Millbank and Alasdair McIntyre. There were only two trips to the hospital and a few phone calls. This weekend we studied Roberto Goizueta, St. John Chrysostom and Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

Q: What is your final word on complementarity? So you don’t think it marginalizes either women or men?

Mark and Louise: All discussions about women and men and their roles, or any other type of roles, are secondary to the Gospel call to give up all and follow Jesus, loving the Lord with our whole hearts and our neighbors as ourselves and washing their feet.

Q: Shouldn’t you use other words than complementarity, since feminists don’t like that word?

Mark: I don’t want to get into semantics (correct words). Recently, a Dominican Sister suggested that we use the word mutuality rather than complementarity. That’s fine with me, as long as it expresses the concept of each member of the marriage using their skills to assist the marriage by making a contribution that one individual alone could not. Louise, however, prefers complementarity and have to respect that. To her it makes sense. To me, words are not nearly as important as deeds.

Above all, I believe in the washing of the feet, where each member of the relationship mutually serves the other in simple things like household chores to more important things like putting a newspaper and empowering poor, battered women. JTo us the right words are “the washing of the feet.”

Q: What do the other CW’s do at Casa Juan Diego?

Mark and Louise: They (including immigrant CW’s) are worker-scholars in the CW tradition. They, as we, clean up garbage, sort and organize donated clothing, wash sheets, organize the kitchen, drive people to hospitals, to appointments, to send money through courier services to their families, to the Houston Police Dept. Family Violence Center. They drive the truck to the Houston Food Bank to collect food, receive donations, help triage which guests must receive medical care (from our own clinics or at larger medical facilities), read and discuss Catholic Worker literature/theology and write articles for the newspaper.

We do the works of mercy as opposed to the works of war.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, March-April 1998.