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Tuesday, 27 June 2017 22:56

“If We Had Any Guts, We’d Start a Catholic Worker House”

Written by Bob & Ruth Kleeman
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Bob & Ruth Kleeman – Houston Chapter

Most of our readers are familiar with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, but perhaps not everyone is familiar with Mark and Louise Zwick in Houston, Texas.

They were volunteer missioners in El Salvador in the late 1970s but were forced to leave following death threats related to the civil war at the time. Upon their return to the US, they saw the need to help the refugees from Central America and commented that, “If we had any guts, we’d start a Catholic Worker House.” They founded a house of hospitality under the name of Casa Juan Diego in 1980, and ever since they have dedicated their lives, on a fulltime volunteer basis, to helping the needy.

Mark and Louise Zwick at Casa Juan Diego in 2012

Mark passed away in November 2016, but Louise continues the work. They started in a dilapidated building. When it burned down, they moved to another location, and it also burned. The replacement building was built of steel and concrete in order to avoid future fires. Their son stated that from their humble beginnings, they have expanded to include ten buildings, and the movement has become a beacon for immigrants fleeing from violence and poverty in countries around the world, especially Central America.

Most of their assistance is to those considered “illegal immigrants.” Mark would say there is no such thing as “illegal immigrants”—some may be undocumented, but being a person is not illegal. Casa is primarily a short-term refuge to give immigrants a place to rest, shower and wash their clothes, receive any necessary medical assistance, have time to establish contacts with friends or family in the States, and plan the next step on their long journeys.

The Zwicks have written several books, including Mercy Without Borders, which is primarily about the difficult journeys of immigrants. To understand the spiritual foundations of Dorothy Day and of the Zwicks, read their book, The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins.

Mark and Louise have lived the scriptures as written in Mathew 25: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to Me.” Mark said: “ We must see the face of Jesus in those who ask anything of us. For me it is like the Eucharist. We see the bread, but know through the eyes of faith that Jesus is present. Jesus loved the poor to show the power of God’s love and we try to share that love.” But Mark also realized that it is not always easy to love in the face of hunger, tragedy, fear, hardships, uncertainty, anger, and the like—and he has seen them all over the years.

Dorothy Day said: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Mark and Louise had their dreams, but what made them special is their love in action. Mark said, “The one who does not live to serve has no reason to live.”

Mark Zwick served for his whole life; may he rest in peace.

Editor’s note: The Houston Affiliates included a visit to Casa Juan Diego in their 2004 Regional Conference. Many of the Houston Affiliates support the House. A few years ago, Bob and Ruth volunteered at the House for a few weeks during Mark’s illness.




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