Dorothy Gauchat, Co-Founder of Our Lady of the Wayside

A short profile of Dorothy and Bill Gauchat, the Cleveland-based Catholic Workers who founded Our Lady of the Wayside for disabled children.

This article originally appeared in Give Us This Day, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

Dorothy Gauchat (1921-2000) and her husband Bill were drawn together by the spirit of Dorothy Day. The message of the Catholic Worker—that Christ comes to us in the disguise of our neigbhor—shaped their marriage and their vocation. Dorothy first met Bill in the 1930s when he operated a Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Cleveland. After their marriage, they settled on a farm in Avon, where they raised three children and continued to practice the works of mercy.

A turning point came with a call from a Catholic hospital asking if they would care for a severely disabled infant, not expected to live. At first Dorothy resisted—but then she was overwhelmed by the thought that this was “one of God’s immortal creations: hurt, yes; sick, yes; hopelessly handicapped, yes; but immortal.” They took in the child and cared for him. From this small beginning they found their lifelong vocation as foster parents to a stream of other children, most often labeled as hopeless cases. One of them, a boy severely disabled with cerebral palsy, they adopted as their own son.

After Bill was seemingly healed of terminal cancer followimg a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Gauchats undertook a new ambitious plan, opening a house large enough to care for dozens of severely disabled children—“Our Lady of the Wayside.” Dorothy carried on this mission after her husband’s death. In 1987 she also founded a hospice for infants with HIV/AIDS, where she worked until her own death on February 20, 2000.

“Our faith supported our actions: If one does not love his neighbor, he cannot love God. These unwanted waifs are our neighbor.”

—Dorothy Gauchat


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