By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Since opening the Iowa City Catholic Worker hospitality house last summer, volunteers had dreamed of being able to celebrate Mass there. “We wanted to supplement our works of mercy with Mass, the Eucharist,” said live-in volunteer David Goodner.
On Feb. 3, the dream was realized when retired diocesan priest Father Walter Helms celebrated Mass in the 2,800-square-foot Victorian house, which offers temporary housing to guests in a community atmosphere. It was an intimate liturgy, celebrated with guests and volunteers. The group of about 10 sang and prayed, and though none of the current guests are Catholic, they received a blessing from Fr. Helms during Communion.
“It was a beautiful service,” Goodner gushed. He noted that the Masses are not celebrated with the intention of converting non-Catholic guests but if they develop an interest or openness to the faith, “that’s great.”
A lay Carmelite group from St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City helped make the Mass possible. “The Catholic Worker House is a home to welcome strangers, a hospitality house,” said Tess Judge-Ellis, who is in the first stage of formation with the Carmelite group. “We admire and respect their mission to serve others.” The group has been serving meals twice a month at the hospitality house. When Judge-Ellis found out about the Catholic Worker’s dream of celebrating Mass there, she reached out to Fr. Helms. “He was happy to serve a need.”
The hospitality house is located in the southeast part of town. Volunteers and guests share meals, contribute to housework projects and pray together.
The community isn’t meant to be a long-term solution for families, with 30-day stays or less, so guests must work toward specific goals to achieving permanent housing. Currently, a multi-generation family of five is staying in the house; two other guests transitioned into permanent housing earlier this month.
Community volunteers have been working to increase spiritual offerings since last summer. Currently, deacon candidate Chris Kabat, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, leads a weekly Bible study and discussion. A social action book club has also been in the mix.
Another Mass will be celebrated at Catholic Worker House on March 3 at 6 p.m. with celebrant Father Ed Fitzpatrick, retired director of the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa. A potluck will follow. Persons interested in participating may call Emily at (515) 729-6482.