#3 Fall 1996 v.p. DMCW 20th Anniversary p. 4

#3 Fall 1996 v.p.  DMCW 20th Anniversary p. 4


By Frank Cordaro

Friday, August 23, the first day of our 20th Anniversary celebration, commemorated the first night we officially opened the Des Moines Catholic Worker in 1976.  The first event scheduled for Friday was a 3:30p.m press conference with Phil Berrigan and Liz McAllister at Ligutti House.

Ligutti House’s first floor was transformed into a photo and newsletter archive.  I brought a complete bound collection of Via Pacis, along with photos and articles I’ve collected over the last twenty years.  There were posters and photos on every wall, leaving no spot uncovered.  It made a perfect backdrop for the press conference.

Our twenty year tradition reflects the balance and tension between the work of hospitality and resistance.  From the very beginning, we’ve had a close relationship with Phil and Liz and the Jonah House resistance community in Baltimore.  I really can’t think of two better people to come and help celebrate our 20th Anniversary and  I was so happy when they agreed to be our special guests for the celebration.

Liz and Phil arrived at the Worker in plenty of time.  They both looked great and were happy to be with us.  Regrettably, only one newsperson from the Des Moines Register showed up for the press conference.  Her name was Jennifer Holland, in intern from Iowa State University.  For nearly an hour, Jennifer interviewed Phil and Liz while fifteen friends and supporters listened attentively.  As it turned out, it was a good interview and discussion time.

The next major event was Liz and Phil’s Friday evening talk at Trinity United Methodist
Church.  Just two blocks north of the Catholic Worker houses, the members of the Trinity congregation have been close friends and supporters of the Des Moines Catholic Worker from the very beginning.

The sanctuary was decorated with a beautiful new banner commissioned by Jeff Bushnell, an unemployed professional sign painter and frequent guest at the house.  Jeff did a wonderful job on the banner and we used his sketch of Dingman House as the logo for our special Anniversary T-shirts.  The resemblance between the character on the steps of Dingman House on the T-shirts and Carla Dawson is purely coincidental..  (Honestly, Carla!)  Jeff was around the whole weekend doing portrait sketches of individuals.  Great work, Jeff.  Thanks much!

One hundred fifty people showed up for the talk.  The crowd included former Des Moines Catholic Workers, old and new friends and supporters from Des Moines and points beyond.

Bill Basinger, one of our most valued extended community members, a member of the Trinity congregation and husband of Jean, welcomed us.  Ed Fallon, our local State Representative, next door neighbor and Friday night Mass musician, warmed the crowd up with a couple of songs.

I was the first to speak.  It was my task to give an overview of the first twenty years of the Des Moines Catholic Worker in twenty minutes.  Knowing that I could not possibly cover our whole history in so little time, I chose to highlight different eras and individuals who made major contributions to the community.  In particular I mentioned the significant role that Bishop Dingman and Jim Harrington played in the life of our community.

Next we called the current Des Moines Catholic Worker Community to the front of the Church where we led the assembly in singing our favorite Friday night Mass song, “Lord of the Dance”.  Then Carmen Trotta, a former Des Moines Catholic Worker and guest from the New York Catholic Worker,  gave a stirring and heartfelt introduction of Liz and Phil.

Phil spoke first, followed by Liz.  Both gave very strong personal testimonies regarding the need for faith based communities committed to nonviolent resistance.  The topic of their talk was “Faith, Family and Resistance”.  While they have raised three wonderful children of their own, they said their experience of family in the last twenty-three years has expanded beyond their traditional “nuclear family”.  It has grown to include the community with which they lived at Jonah House and the extended resistance communities that they have come to know throughout the world.

When asked about their three children being pressured into doing resistance work, Phil and Liz said that they never asked Jerry, Freida or Katie to do anything against their will.  They never demanded that their children see their way of life as the only model to follow.  They are parents with the same concerns any parents have for their children.

Their talk concluded with a question and answer session which gave rise to a lively discussion surrounding the issue of raising families and doing resistance.  Next we proceeded to the church basement for refreshments and more discussion.  The night ended with a party at Dingman House which lasted well into the night.

It was great to see all those Catholic Workers and supporters in one place.  Every time I turned around that weekend I bumped into a former Des Moines Catholic Worker who brought to mind and heart a wonderful memory.  Those were three truly magical days for me.  I could not be happier or more grateful for the Des Moines Catholic Worker and the twenty year Catholic Worker tradition I helped to start here in Des Moines.  My prayer is that God blesses us with twenty more!




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