Minneapolis Catholic Worker Community Returns to Roots of Christian Life

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Family members and friends Miller and Hambley share a meal Sept. 19, 2022 in one of the yards at Maurin House, a relatively new Catholic worker community in Columbia Heights, Minnesota (Photo: Catholic News Service)

By Jonathan Liedl

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Guests dining at the Maurin House, a relatively new Catholic working community in Columbia Heights, might be tempted to describe what they see as an exceptional and elevated expression of Christian life.

Don’t expect the two families that make up the community to necessarily agree with this.

“We also really don’t think what we’re doing is something no ordinary Catholic could do,” said Tyler Hambley, 37, who along with wife Crystal, 38, longtime friends Colin and Leigh Miller (44 and 35), and each couple’s four children make up the Maurin House community.

The way the Hambleys and Millers live their lives, however, runs counter to the standard American ideal: They prioritized intentional community — so much so that the Hambleys moved across the country to live in alongside their close friends. They have transformed a garage into a chapel and gather there for daily community prayer. They open their house for an “all are welcome” style dinner two days a week. And they acquired a third house where the poor and homeless are invited to live, joining them in community.

This might seem to many Catholics an extraordinary way of life, a response to a call to go beyond normal Christian practice, but that is not how the Hambleys and Millers see it. They say they’re just following the Gospel and the Catholic faith, plain and simple.

“It may not look exactly like what we did, but building a Catholic community, offering hospitality and being present with others, especially the poor, over a shared dish is something that all Catholics can do,” he said.

In fact, the Maison Maurin community is guided by the belief that these kinds of things are not optional aspects of following Christ—they are an integral part of it.

Maison Maurin is named after Peter Maurin, who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Servant of God Dorothy Day in 1933 with the aim of helping others “live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ” in the modern world.

“Christians are called to take personal responsibility for those before us,” said Colin Miller. “If you can take care of that homeless man right in front of you, don’t send him to the shelter. Don’t go up a level unless you have to.

The Catholic Worker approach also emphasizes that “prayer and work are one and the same,” said Tyler Hambley. “Our prayers are not just words, but speech acts that can only be made true within the context of a life form that gives them meaning.”

The way of life of the members of Maison Maurin also includes voluntary poverty and a kind of mutual dependence on each other and the generosity of others. They see it as an attempt to free themselves from the fragmentation of modern society and return to a more communal and Catholic way of life.

“We just have to find new ways to weave the gospel into, or rather allow the gospel to be, the social fabric, of real local communities, or to face the real possibility of not being able to practice faith at all,” it read. the Maison Maurin policy document’s description of what Larry Chapp, a Catholic worker and theologian based in Pennsylvania, has described as “the Maurin mandate”.

The Maison Maurin document specifies that the Catholic Worker movement is not the only way to live this conviction, but it is also categorical that “the Gospel being what it is, and our society being what it is , intentional Catholic life will tend to take similar forms: liturgy, lay leadership, small community, local life, hospitality, simplicity, friendship with the poor, and a critical and Catholic analysis of our culture”.

The Hambleys say it was by the grace of God that they were able to buy a house with an adjoining yard to the Miller home. The two families knocked down the fence that separated them and set up their chapel-garage, knowing that common prayer would be the basis of their common life.

And from that common life in Christ and the conversations that surrounded it grew the various acts that define life at Maison Maurin today, said Colin Miller.

“We just started inviting people to come together and join us, and then very quickly after that we were like, ‘Well, we have to have the poor too,’ because that authenticates, in a particular way , the Christian community,” he added.

In addition to praying the evening prayer together every day as a community, Maison Maurin hosts 5:30 p.m. dinners every Monday and Friday. They’re not particularly formal, but more “come as you are” style, set up in the yard (at least weather permitting) among the chickens and children.

Their dinners are open to all, and each evening may include a local priest, a professor from the University of St. Thomas and his family, a curious medical student, or one of the guests staying in the host house.

The hospitality house was created in October 2021 after the Maurin House community acquired a third house across the street, allowing them to convert the house between the other two into a place of gathering and hospitality for the poor. At any given time, three or four previously homeless men live in the foster home, where they are invited to become part of the community.

“It was an accidental community,” Colin Miller explained. “We didn’t start early on saying we were going to have a foster home here in Minnesota. We just started living with our friends and praying together.

Members of Maison Maurin are adamant that they do not live some kind of perfect Christian life.

“We don’t really do much,” Leigh Miller said.

She also acknowledged that community life “can be really hard, and it is really hard. But there is a depth that is really beautiful and good.

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