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How Mark Zwick Met Dorothy Day and the Seeds Were Planted For the Houston Catholic Worker/Casa Juan Diego

Dorothy Day
Marquette University Archives

Mark visited Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker on several occasions. One visit was with his mother Florence to Peter Maurin Farm on Staten Island in 1956, when they spent the better part of a day with Dorothy. Mark sometimes accompanied his mother to New York when she went on buying trips for her family department store in Louisville, Ohio. This visit was made on one of those occasions.

When Mark and his mother arrived at the Worker, Dorothy was very open to sharing and took time with them. Mark remembers sitting at Dorothy’s left hand during lunch. As they chatted, she spoke with them about an alcoholic priest who had nowhere to go and who was staying at the Worker at the time, not having been very cooperative with his diocese.

Mark’s impression of Dorothy was that she was gentle and soft-spoken. Today when people ask about his impression of Dorothy during that visit, he usually says, “She seemed tired.”

During the visit, Mark’s mother asked Dorothy what she needed, what was lacking in order to carry out the Works of Mercy. When she mentioned bed sheets, pillow cases, children’s underwear and socks, etc. Florence promised to send some from her store. We have in our possession a thank you note from Dorothy for the items, which were later sent. In that letter Dorothy asked for prayers for a disturbed man who was staying at the Worker.

During the course of the visit, Dorothy asked Mark if he and his mother would be able to assist with trans-portation for four of Ed Willock’s elementary-age children who were waiting at the CW for a ride to Massachusetts. Ed’s wife was ill and struggling with a large family. She couldn’t handle all their children at the time. They were to go to Mary Reed Newland and her husband ‘s farm where they were raising their own large family. This would provide Ed’s wife with some respite time. Mark and his mother drove to Massachusetts to deliver the children.

Dorothy was involved in helping to find transportation for those children because she and others at the Catholic Worker were friends of Ed Willock, editor of Integrity Magazine, which might be called a companion to the Catholic Worker. (We actually have a number of back issues of Integrityin our library). Integrity Magazinewas very much a part of the Catholic renaissance that prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council, as was the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper. Mark was a priest in the Diocese of Youngs-town at the time of these visits to the Worker.

Discovering Dorothy Day and the Famous Retreat

Mark’s introduction to Dorothy and the Catholic Worker movement came earlier, in his first two years at St. Mary’s seminary in Kentucky in 1945-1947. He became friends there with Jim Clark, who had been a captain in the New York Fire Department during World War II and thus did not go to war. Jim later joined the seminary. He shared with Mark about his friendship with Dorothy Day and his reasons for becoming a pacifist. Jim regularly passed out the Catholic Worker newspaper to all the seminarians. Interestingly enough, when we (Mark and Louise) went to visit the New York Catholic Worker in the nineteen eighties, Fr. Jim Clark, now a Capuchin, was celebrating Mass there.

Fr. John Hugo at Maryfarm
Marquette University Archives

Mark made the week-long silent preached Retreat while he was studying theology in the Cleveland seminary between 1948 and 1949. His retreat master was Fr. Francis Meenan, one of two brothers in Pittsburgh who were friends of Fr. Hugo and who gave the Retreat.

The Retreat was a great inspiration in living out the Gospel. However, it was not without controversy. In fact, Mark participated with caution when he was in the seminary because it was considered radical and was criticized priests writing in the Ecclesiastical Review. Doubts emerged after those articles were published.

Fr. Gerhart, who also gave the Retreat, was the Deacon at Mark’s first Mass.  He often mentioned Dorothy to Mark as someone who lived the Retreat. These eight-day silent retreats with several conferences a day, based on the first week of the Ignatian retreat and St. John of the Cross, bring retreatants to a deeper conversion in living out the Gospel. The retreat includes themes on pruning and giving up all to follow Jesus as a means of deepening in the Spirit and changing one’s life.

Mark knew Fr. John Hugo, the person who put flesh on the bones of the famous retreat of Fr. Lacouture that Dorothy Day recommended so highly. and he knew the other priests who gave the retreat. They met periodically. He participated with a small group that followed up on the retreat, trying to follow the Gospel in their daily lives. People called them “Hugo-ites.”      And so, Mark was a “Hugo-ite” before and after he was ordained. He incorporated the ideas and spirituality of the Retreat into his life and work, as Dorothy Day had done.

In his retreat Father Hugo, like Father Lacouture, brought those who attended to embrace the paschal mystery.  He presented the theme of sowing, empha-sizing the integration into one’s life of the Gospel image of the grain of wheat which must fall into the ground and die in order to bear fruit, as well as another illustration from nature in the Gospel, the “pruning” which takes place in the spiritual life.   He emphasized the weapons of the Spirit and the need for Christians to forgive.  He suggested that retreatants (Christians) forgive seventy times seven.  He taught what Peter Maurin called the “shock maxims” of the Gospel: the love of enemies (even in war), giving away your second cloak, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, being poor as Christ was poor.  He stressed with Matthew 25:31ff. that Christ is hidden in the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless.  As Dorothy had quoted Fr. Lacouture in the April 1942 CW, “If we cannot see Jesus in the poor man, we surely cannot see Him under the poverty-stricken veils of bread.”

When Dorothy published her classic book, The Long Loneliness, Mark was able to promote it in his newly founded bookstore apostolate in bookstores he started in Ravenna and Warren, Ohio. His first bookstore was started in 1954 and he was able to feature Dorothy’s new book, published in 1953.

Beginning in Houston

The seeds of the Catholic Worker and the Retreat that Mark received in those years remained with him and later morphed into the Houston Catholic Worker.

As we look back, it strikes us that we met on December 8, 1962, thirty years to the day after the historic meeting of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.

Our trip to Central America in 1977 with our two children to live with the poor was a major step toward trying to live out the Gospel in the model of Dorothy and Peter. We landed in the middle of death squads, violence, and oppression. We learned much from the poor there and about the struggle for justice for the poorest. We left with our children after less than a year in the midst of a civil war and came to Texas, where refugees from the wars in Central America were pouring in.

Dorothy died on the last day of the Church year, November 29, 1980. Her prayers were obviously with us as we were becoming more committed and being forced to pass from love in dreams to love in action.

We talked with Rosemary Badami of Magnificat House here, whom Dorothy had visited when she was starting her house, about how to commemorate Dorothy’s death in Houston. Rosemary suggested having a Month’s Mind Mass, and asked us to plan a liturgy at her house for the occasion, which we did.

We made the decision to start the CW house in Houston very soon after Dorothy’s death. Soon after the special Mass, we had a meeting with several couples who were concerned about the poor and who spoke Spanish. There was unanimous approval and the vote to begin a Catholic Worker House to serve poor refugees and immigrants was unanimous as was the enthusiasm for the project.

Houston Catholic Worker, January-March 2015, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1.