Second Generation CW
Reprinted from The Common Good, No 63, Advent 2012
Growing up in a radical Christian community showed me more of the beauty and diversity of life than money ever could. My parents, Jim Dowling and Anne Rampa, met, married and raised their seven children in Catholic Worker community houses in Brisbane. Now that I am 22 years of age, I can pretty much call myself a second generation Catholic Worker, having chosen to live out the CW ideals myself.
I was born into a life of protesting radicals, drug addicts, intellectuals, artists, priests, nuns, travelers and people living with mental health problems. It was a life supported and built around a philosophy of love which took the form of voluntary poverty, home based crafts and living with the poor and marginalized.
When I was nine we lived in a house of hospitality in the inner suburb of Brisbane’s West End. The house, named Dorothy Day House after the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, was for many years open to anyone who needed a place to stay. At its height, the seven bedroom house sheltered 15 people. Every day had any number of people coming and going to use the phone, make a cuppa, share some food or just have a chat. I loved our people-filled life and took the constant buzz of activity and chaos to be a normal part of everyday living.
We made no-knead bread and baked it in an old school industrial oven in our kitchen and dad would do bread runs around the community. People would comment that you could build houses out of the loaves! For us it was a small income from the work of our own hands. I remember sitting on the high bench picking the sultanas out of the big pots that held the rising fruit loaf dough and eventually being noticed by a distracted adult and kicked out of the kitchen.
We also made soap which was sold at various health food co-ops and the not-for-profit shop which we ran that sold homemade fair-trade crafts from all over the world.
As children, my siblings and I were aware of inequality and suffering in the world and we knew that we lived in this way as an expression of the Catholic Worker philosophy of personalism. This requires us to take personal responsibility as human beings to act in a way that eased, and at the very least did not add, to the suffering of our brothers and sisters.
We went to many protests on issues including anti-war, nuclear disarmament, environmental, pro-life and Aboriginal rights. We were accepted neither completely by the anti-war left nor the pro-life right, but we were supported by a loving community and driven by our parents’ passionate convictions.
Over the years, both of my parents spent time in jail for protesting against things in our society that fed the culture of violence and death. In these times, the support of those around us was beautiful and showed that when you act from your heart against things in this world that break down humanity the cost won’t be great when shared among many. The return of love that comes from recognizing our shared humanity will be huge.
I went to the local primary school which at the time had 600 students from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. We spent a lot of time running around the neighbourhood with five or more kids from the Aboriginal hostel across the road. Our dress-up box from home provided endless hours of entertainment and in return the other kids knew all the hot spots to get lollies from the neighbours!
I remember colouring in drawings with Lavina, one of the girls from across the road, who had coloured faces purple, yellow and blue. I disapproved. But she was persistent. I suddenly realized that the colour of our faces – Lavina’s and mine – was different and it didn’t matter to us. But by then I realised that it mattered a lot to other people in our world. Suddenly I wished that I was colouring my picture purple, blue and green so they too could be liberated from the boxes.
All of this was normal everyday life for me. So when it came time for me to choose a direction in life for myself, I looked at the Catholic Worker radicalism though I didn’t have the same excited energy of a new convert. I think this is something that a lot of children bought up with a radical lifestyle face. How do we inject the passion into our lives that will help us push against the tide, to dream of something new? I’m not sure, but I hope and pray that with enough rediscovering, deepening of ideas, perhaps some rebellion, we can develop some new communities to keep the ideals alive and fresh enough to keep feeding the next generation.
Currently I am living in the country in New Zealand and exploring Peter Maurin’s vision of forming communities and houses of hospitality as a life–giving protest to the current direction of our society and the world generally.
Marissa Dowling lives and works at Clarehouse CW in Opononi, Northland.