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Juan Diego is a Saint! Why is the Houston Catholic Worker called Casa Juan Diego?

Mosaic of Juan Diego in front of Casa Juan Diego



We heard the news with joy that Juan Diego, has passed the final step in the process to sainthood in the Catholic Church. We named the first house of the Houston Catholic Worker, Casa Juan Diego, and as more houses were opened over the years, the name Casa Juan Diego became an umbrella for all of the houses.

Why Juan Diego?

Why did we choose Juan Diego as our patron when we started Casa Juan Diego 21 years ago?

The bigger question-which is really the answer-is why did God choose Juan Diego to be the recipient of the apparition of Our Lady?

The response of many Americans is rather Belloc-ian: How odd of God to choose Juan Diego when there were so many respected people to choose from. Wasn’t it strange that God would choose a Native American without a college degree or a master’s degree in theology as the messenger to evangelize the local Bishop about the importance and dignity of the indigenous?

The Blessed Mother always seems to be sneaking in the poor uneducated people or children for honors, witness Fatima, Lourdes, etc.

Fortunately, the Spaniards left some Native Americans in Latin America to whom Our Lady could appear, as opposed to the English up North who decimated the native population and didn’t leave many at all.

The message of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe was in the messenger, Juan Diego. The chosen one was poor, without formal education, did not speak Spanish, and among the race of people not accepted by some of the conquering conquistadores as human beings or having souls.

Our Lady of Guadalupe changed all of that and sent Juan Diego to evangelize the Franciscan Bishop who was very open to the messenger of dignity, having been a defender of Native Americans in the past.

Of course, the Bishop didn’t have much of a choice in the face of the miracle of the roses and the image left on the tilma of Juan Diego which is still in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. But he was an o.k. Bishop.

All the indigenous embraced the dignity of Juan Diego and since then Our Lady of Guadalupe has become the national flag and banner of Mexico’s poor. If you visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe you can realize this. However, when Our Lady appeared, Mexico did not exist as a country-it was all New Spain. She has been named by the Church the patroness of the Americas.

Why Casa Juan Diego in Houston?

Twenty-one years ago we started the Houston Catholic Worker, possessing nothing except our patron, Juan Diego-and what could he do for us, anyhow?

It was a perfect match. Juan Diego was poor, powerless and a nobody in a worldly sense and so were we. So were the people we would serve who were sleeping in cars in the used car lots on Washington Avenue, refugees from the wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and later immigrants from many countries.

The former U. S. Director of Immigration and Naturalization questioned the wisdom of starting such a house of hospitality.

The priest who blessed the building, the ugliest building in Houston, remarked that we would need $40,000 (in 1980 dollars) to begin. We had nothing, but we did have experience and wobbly faith–all worried about liability and that stuff. It helped our doubts when Louise went to work as a children’s librarian for Houston Public Library so we wouldn’t have to take funds from Casa Juan Diego to raise our children.

We went to Bishop Morkovsky, our Bishop, probably one of the best Spanish speakers in the Diocese at that time, to announce our efforts and to ask his blessing. (We didn’t go to ask for money.) We learned years ago that to succeed in a diocese you never ask the Bishop for money and you never make him responsible for your ideas and programs.

The Bishop was very receptive-like Juan Diego’s Bishop-and he gave us his blessing, although he would have preferred that we start a Legion of Mary, since the image of Dorothy Day was not clear at the time. He hadn’t read about the “Roots of the Catholic Worker Movement.!”

Bishop Morkovsky was one of the first priests to celebrate Mass in this ugly building. He returned, carrying his own satchel, as we moved to another ugly building when the first one burned down (unfortunately the second one also burned). After celebrating the Mass, he would never be found. He was always mingling with the guests. Rumor has it that he arranged for Casa Juan Diego to receive the Jefferson Award in our early years.

Bishop Fiorenza, successor to Bishop Morkovsky, has also been supportive, and while we don’t have the miracle of the roses to present to him, we do have 21 years and 45,000 immigrants (Juan Diegos) who have passed through our doors. The Bishops’s response has been very positive. He is interested in the canonization of Dorothy Day.

For our immigrants and refugees, Bishop Fiorenza does the best possible thing by allowing us to participate in the missionary cooperative plan. This gives us the opportunity to speak in parishes about our work and sign up people for the newspaper. Through these talks many people have been interested in Casa Juan Diego not only been generous in their contributions, but volunteered to help.

We are grateful for the guidance and support of the Bishops and SAINT Juan Diego.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXII, No. 1, January-February 2002.