The Tampa CW Story: Inspiration and Origins

This is the second in a continuing series of articles about how to start a Catholic Worker community, told through the lived experience of the Tampa Catholic Worker.

What is the inspiration behind Dorothy Day Tampa?

In 1989, the Catholic Worker Sr. Char Madigan, shared with Ann and Mike the plight of the residents in her St. Joseph’s Women’s Shelter, struggling to transform their lives living in a blighted South Minneapolis neighborhood. Sr. Char introduced us to Servant of God Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Her shelter model was a Dorothy Day House. Sr. Char ‘planted a seed’ by enlisting us to help transform a square block of deteriorating, abandoned houses to transitional homes for her women and children.                                                                                                                

In 1989, the neighborhood surrounding St. Joseph’s Women’s Shelter was filled with vacant land and deteriorating housing. As co-founders of H.O.P.E. we were able to acquire land and houses no one else wanted and began rehabbing the block – house-by-house. By 1993, Sr. Char had five properties under management. Today, Hope Community contains 253 rental apartments (70% affordable), H.O.P.E’s offices and community center, small businesses, large community gardens, and outdoor community spaces – a community empowerment blessing to a flourishing South Minneapolis neighborhood. Here was a potential model for Mike and I to replicate in Tampa.

How to begin in Tampa?

Through our work with Love INC (in the Name of Christ) Tampa, we experienced the profound mutual value of volunteers entering into loving relationship with people with life stories much different than their own. At the same time, we all see our most vulnerable and voiceless citizens – our homeless neighbors – still living on our streets. Thus, our hearts and minds returned to Sr. Char and Dorothy Day.

We asked: How do we introduce Dorothy Day to our Tampa community? Could Tampa embrace the idea of “radical hospitality” as a way to love our neighbors who struggle with chronic homelessness? Is there interest and willingness?

In February 2022, we completed our first virtual study group of The Long Loneliness. Following this six-week study of Dorothy Day’s examples of love, we were humbled by the “YES” response from 12 attendees. We understand that hospitality may not always change the status of homelessness. But could relationships, with loving volunteers, give these neighbors a safe space and a sense of dignity, respect, and belonging in our community? We believe so.

These founding participants formed Dorothy Day Tampa, and our Development Board decided to pursue a homeless drop-in center as our inaugural project. Modeled on the best practices of Tampa’s Coffee Shop, currently the only drop-in center serving Tampa, and the 35-year-old Peace House Community (www.peacehousecommunity.org), another organization affiliated with H.O.P.E., this center will seek to serve as a place of refuge for the marginalized of our community.

The start-up legal paperwork has been completed and filed. Now we start the logistical development!

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

– Postscript, The Long Loneliness

Next in this series: How to Develop a Dorothy Day House: Conducting a Needs Assessment.

To view all of the articles in this series, visit the The Dorothy Day Tampa Story page.

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