This article originally appeared on Theo Kayser’s blog, A Troubadour for the Catholic Worker Movement, where you can find more great stories, photos, and videos about his visits to Catholic Worker communities.
The BCW is a bit of a mini Catholic Worker village just off the “B Line” trail northwest of downtown Bloomington, Indiana. Occupying four neighboring houses on Blair Avenue, their’s is an interesting setup that mixes personal and communal spaces in a way semi-unique to the other few dozen Catholic Workers I’ve seen.
The first house, Little Way House, as you make your way up the block currently houses Andrea and Ross and their kids as well as intern Kyla.
To the right (as you look from the street) of Little Way House is Romero House. The BCW uses this space to house a family that would otherwise be homeless.
Next is Eugene V. Debs (named for the anti war socialist who Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy admired) house is where Sarah Lynne and Brett live with their kids and share space with another intern named Gabe.
Finally there is “the new house” which doesn’t have a name yet and where I stayed in an empty guest room. The new house also housed someone recently released from prison and a fellow I never actually met during my two week stay because he was recovering in a medical care facility.
The house common spaces are semi-communal, not only between the various parties who live there but also for other folks in the community. Folks in the community would pop into the various buildings freely, sometimes with a gentle courtesy knock before opening the door. It wouldn’t be out of place for the initiated to just show up looking to borrow spices or just enter when looking for a fellow community member.
The backyards are also communally shared. Behind Little Way House stands the chapel, where on weekday mornings the community would gather together for prayer. First a hymn was sung, then a Bible reading for the day was read allowed, followed by ten minutes or so of silence or journaling. Folks mention aloud anything they’d like to hold in prayer that morning and then the “Our Father” is prayed together before wrapping up with another hymn.
In adjacent yards you’ll find a fire pit, chicken coop, wood shed, bike shed, tool shed, garden areas (the front yards have food growing space too!), picnic tables, outdoor furniture, and plenty of toys from the various dogs and kids.
Monday through Thursday are community dinners hosted in the Romero House’s dining room. Sometimes a volunteer friend of the community donates dinner and joins in, otherwise its usually just the folks living in the four houses in attendance except for Thursday which is potluck night. Some evenings the short biography for the saint of the day is read out loud from the volume Robert Ellsburg edited and is commonly found at many CW houses.
Sunday evenings are also generally a time of communal gathering. Each week is a different activity that rotates. I was in town for “consolations and desolations” night where folks reflected on a high and low point for the previous month and for “fun” night where the activity was watch the Super Bowl (for whoever decided to join). I know “dessert” night was also in the rotation.
The radish is the official mascot for the Bloomington CW, harkening back to Peter Maurin who said that to be radical is to go to the root. But it was “the onion” which I heard most about during my visit.
The onion is the metaphor they model their community on, there are many layers. Different folks have different responsibilities and parts to play in the communal life but they are all part of the whole.
Visitors like myself are a layer, perhaps the least central. Volunteers are a layer and so are friends of the CW or the guests that currently live there. There are interns who help in the communal work and that’s a different layer of the onion. They may or may not be considering making a long term commitment, at the CW this looks like a 7 year commitment to the community after a discernment process of about the same length.
In addition to houseing folks they have a simple day old produce distribution on Saturdays and help at other homeless services around town.