New Haven’s Amistad Catholic Worker House Celebrates 20 Years of Social Justice Activism

Posted July 29, 2015

MP3 Interview with Luz Catarineau and Mark Colville, Amistad Catholic Worker, New Haven, CT, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


The Catholic Worker movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933, believes in responding to the material and spiritual needs of the poor by offering food, shelter, and prayer gatherings, but also by confronting the structural economic and political injustices in America that make poverty and violence possible. There are more than 200 Catholic Worker communities that provide social services in cities across the U.S.

Luz and Mark Colville founded the New Haven, Connecticut Amistad Catholic Worker House in 1994, in one of the city’s poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods. There they raised four children, the youngest of whom is 11. The couple got to know their neighbors and took part in local and regional protests against war, homelessness, police violence, among other issues.

Mark Colville, who has been arrested many times in civil disobedience actions was among hundreds arrested during peaceful protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Police conduct was so egregious that those arrested won a civil settlement 10 years later. With the $14,000 won in the lawsuit, the Colvilles decided to throw a big party at New Haven’s premier park to celebrate the Amistad House's 20th anniversary. Hundreds attended the afternoon beach party and the evening dinner dance. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with both Luz and Mark Colville and asked them to share a bit of history of their social activism and priorities.

MARK COLVILLE : Even though we have a roof that’s starting to leak and needs to be replaced, we felt that for various reasons it was important to seize this moment to celebrate – to celebrate victories, celebrate the movement, celebrate the struggle that all of us are involved in. So we decided to use a good chunk of this money to throw a party for the 20th anniversary of the Amistad Catholic Worker. So that’s what we did.

BETWEEN THE LINES: One thing I remember as a reporter was, you lived, especially years ago, in a pretty dangerous neighborhood, and there were people next door dealing drugs. AndI remember you put up a sign that said, “Please get help” and “don’t sell drugs.” And right around that time, you got a bullet through one of your rooms, which happened to be the room where your infant son was sleeping. And you organized this big march that went around the neighborhood in the evening and made the point that you weren’t going to tolerate it, that it wasn’t good for the neighborhood, that it wasn’t good for you. That was one of my highlights. And am I right that the drug dealing next door ceased?

LUZ COLVILLE: Oh, yes. So, it was ECCO, Elm City Congregations Organized, and it was all their dues-paying members and lay organizations got their people out there, and we had a candlelight vigil in our neighborhood calling out the drug dealers and saying we would not stand for this violence in our neighborhood. The drug dealers were out there, present, and they were all laughing at the beginning because there was only a trickle of candles at the beginning. Then all of a sudden you see this flood of candles coming through, hundreds of candles coming through the corner of Morris Street. It was just amazing. And Mark called the drug dealers out by name, saying this will not happen in this neighborhood. We have kids that we’re raising, other neighbors are raising their kids, and it’s time for it to stop. And pretty much, people took notice. Now it’s no longer hidden in darkness, and everyone started to feel confident that this is my neighborhood. And that’s what it was all about; it was about empowering our neighbors to say, I have a right to be safe. And so, we weren’t instigating a problem here, we were just trying to help people see that everyone has a right to live in their own neighborhood, as safe as possible.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, my understanding of how the Catholic Worker operates is that there’s sort of two tracks. One is meeting people’s everyday needs by providing food and clothing and other things that people can come and get once a week, and the food is every day, or Monday through Friday. And then there is the speaking truth to power, and I know that Mark has been arrested so many times you probably can’t keep track. But just talk about that a little bit, Mark, some of the things you’ve done over the years, and you’ve served some serious jail time as part of that.

MARK COLVILLE: Well, first of all, we have an open door for meals, and that’s where everything starts. Everything we get involved in both as individuals and as a community, it all starts at the table, what we call a common table, and everybody’s invited to come and break bread together. And we use that moment, we use those meals, as a way, first of all, of people getting to know each other, and secondly, people learning how to share their burdens with each other and to carry the other person’s burden. And so when we get involved in social issues, it’s all an outgrowth of the relationships that are nurtured in the breaking of bread.

In the Catholic Worker movement there is a very rich history and tradition of anti-war action, non- violent action against war and the various other forms of violence against the poor. So groups of us, small groups of us, have often been involved in acts of resistance against violence and injustice and poverty and the impoverishment of people. As somebody trying to be a Christian, I feel a strong imperative to really look at the law and how the law justifies immorality and crimes against humanity, and to stand on the other side of that law. And so we’ve been involved in various kinds of movements over the years at the Amistad house, from the Plowshares movement to the anti-torture movement, and of course, resisting all the numerous invasions that our country has been involved, our military has been involved in, since 1994, when we first organized.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, going forward for the next 20 years, Luz, what do you see as your job, or what’s your vision for the Amistad Catholic Worker in the Hill neighborhood in the city of New Haven?

LUZ COLVILLE: I think what’s really great about the Amistad Catholic Worker is that we sort of move with the flow and respond to people in crisis. So there is no hidden agenda, there is no planned agenda. You sort of have to move forward and live day to day. I’m not home all the time; I do work outside of the household to supplement the income of our community to make sure the bills are paid so our house can say open so people can come in and have their needs met. But I’m there for the long haul.

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