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Workers and Scholars

Part of Peter Maurin’s vision was to make workers scholars and scholars workers. Itwould be hard to imagine anyone who exemplifies that vision better than Mark and Louise Zwick. The Zwicks founded and run the Houston Catholic Worker, a communityof 11 large homes for the homeless, including houses in Guatemala and Mexico. Theyalso provide free medical care for thousands, and run a job cooperative for workers inHouston. The Zwicks are workers. At the same time, they are scholars, running a newspaper with a circulation of 65,000, which keeps the intellectual vision of theCatholic Worker alive and thriving.

Mark and Louise Zwick visited St. Thomas in February for a visit sponsored by the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought. They gave three public talks in 24 hours, and left much conversation in their wake. At the Casa Guadalupana Catholic Worker house on Sunday night, they led a roundtable discussion on their work with migrant laborers. Fifty people crowded the living room of the Casa to hear Mark and Louise tell of their own struggles to put Catholic social teaching into action. Both were professionals, Mark a social worker, Louise a research librarian, who had much in material comfort to lose. But in small steps they embraced a life of voluntary poverty in order to serve the most needy around them, the immigrants pouring in from Latin America. Although they had tragic stories to tell – about those who arrive at their doorhaving been raped and abused on the long journey north – the Zwicks also conveyed a sense that life with the poor for them is a joy-filled journey of faith marked out before them by the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Much of the Sunday night discussion centered on the plight of workers who come to the United States from south of the border. The Zwicks cited Pope John Paul II’s statements on migrant labor, including the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, in which deportation is listed alongside slavery and prostitution as insults to human dignity. Nevertheless, despite their bold work with undocumented workers, Mark and Louise made clear that they would rather that people would be able to stay and work in their home countries. Once here, immigrants deserve to be defended from exploitation and treated with dignity. The deeper problem, however, is getting at the economic causes that tragically uproot people from their homes in search of work.

On Monday evening, the Zwicks spoke of the renewal of the Catholic university. With some 25 students and faculty in attendance, Mark and Louise led a reflection on some of Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays. In the essays, Maurin encourages Catholic scholars to “blow the dynamite” of the Church’s teaching. For too long, according to Maurin, scholars have kept the true dynamism of the Church’s message under wraps, locked away in libraries. This causes even Catholics to look elsewhere for the ideas that will transform society. According to the Zwicks, we need look no further than the Catholic tradition itself, which has the vision to transform this stricken world if we only would put it into practice. The Zwicks thus encouraged scholars to be workers and workers to be scholars. As to how this can be accomplished, they left us with the example of themselves.