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Taylor Philips and Aruni Areti

Casa Juan Diego


Casa Juan Diego (CJD) is a product of the Catholic Worker Movement located in Houston, Texas. It was founded in 1980 by Mark and Louise Zwick and primarily serves immigrants and refugees. Casa Juan Diego has transformed from one house into nine houses, and includes a medical clinic, food distribution center, and social service center. Residents at CJD seek refuge from around the world, including Guinea, Congo, Mali, Haiti, Cuba, and more. 


Support Network, Community, Personalism, Hospitality House, Casa Juan Diego, Catholic Worker Movement, Refugees, Immigrants, Social Justice

The Catholic Worker Movement 

Founded in 1933 by journalist Dorothy Day and philosopher Peter Maurin, The Catholic Worker Movement is an international network of communities that implement teachings of the Gospels and Catholic Church to social justice and humanitarian work (Tom Cornell, n.d.). What started as a Catholic Worker newspaper which sold for a penny a copy has developed into 228 Catholic Worker communities across the globe. The aims and mission of the Catholic Worker Movement is to reject the world’s capitalist and bourgeois society that is “far from God’s justice” through a commitment to “nonviolence, voluntary poverty, and the Works of Mercy” as the foundation to their work (The Catholic Worker, 2019). Central to the movement is a personalist philosophy that entails “direct, individual, active love, motivated by an eschatological, spiritual urgency” (Newman 2015).


As the movement spread, their efforts to remove systems of oppression became grounded in hospitality. Their goal to promote the biblical promise of justice and mercy has manifested into varying forms of community service and hospitality to support underserved, marginalized individuals worldwide. The most common form is through houses of hospitality which serve as a safe space and shelter for impoverished individuals without costs and the requirement of attending religious services. The Catholic Worker Movement houses of hospitality are founded on Christian anarchism, which rejects government authority over human societies and dances with legality as many provide sanctuary and protection for recent migrants (Christoyannopoulos, 2011). Each Catholic Worker community contextualizes its efforts to its location and the needs of the community they serve.


Catholic Worker in Houston: Casa Juan Diego

One of the most prominent hospitality houses under the Catholic Worker Movement is Casa Juan Diego (CJD) in Houston, Texas. They were founded in 1980 by Mark and Louise Zwick, who began as priests and psychiatric social workers. Their Catholic Worker community primarily serves immigrants and refugees. They chose to represent their hospitality house with the story of Saint Juan Diego, which is symbolic of the notion that God loves everyone and every human has “God-given dignity” and respect as he advocated for the rights of the indigenous peoples of America during the Spanish conquest. Casa Juan Diego initially began in response to the large migration of immigrants seeking asylum from the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala: from 1981 to 1990, approximately one million refugees entered the United States to escape the repression and violence in El Salvador and Guatemala (Gzesh 2006). The Zwicks’ developed the first hospitality house - Casa Juan Diego - as the immigrants lacked a support network. 


Since its founding, Casa Juan Diego has transformed from one house into nine, alongside a medical clinic for undocumented people, a food distribution center, and a social service center. The communities they serve have also expanded from Central America to Africa - Guinea, Congo, Mali - as well as families from Haiti, Cuba, and more (Anonymous, 2021). The immigration statuses range from undocumented to temporary protection, as well as asylum seekers and permanent residents. While CJD serves a large immigrant population, they also house the homeless and other marginalized communities throughout Texas.


Furthermore, CJD tracks how more significant political events impact migration patterns to understand the diversity of conditions that individuals arrive with to better support their needs. From there, CJD utilizes a strong support system of volunteers who spend their time managing the hospitality houses and services offered. Over the past decade, as violence within Central America and Africa grows increasingly dire, CJD has received an increasing number of migrants with grave health conditions such as injuries from gunshots, accidents, and pregnancy (Salai, 2015 & Anonymous, 2021). As a result, various educational backgrounds and careers are a valuable resource to the hospitality house and led to the development of the Casa Juan Diego Medical Clinic, staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses specializing in pediatrics, women's health, ENT, infectious disease, surgery, and dentistry. Other volunteers come with experience as ex-social workers and serve as a resource for mental health care as they assist with depression, anxiety, family problems, and other mental health or behavioral issues such as PTSD.  


Upon arriving at the hospitality house, volunteers conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to understand the individuals' and families' overall well-being and immediate needs. As many cases require acute care, Casa Juan Diego has formed an informal partnership with Ben Taub Hospital volunteers for treatment. Upon discharge, the individual's care is continued and supported at CJD through volunteer health care providers and social workers. In-house nurses track the medications and treatment needs of all the individuals at CJD, and when individuals cannot afford medication, CJD finances these costs as well (Anonymous, 2021). Volunteers also provide medical services outside of CJD. Several medical students and professors from the Baylor College of Medicine volunteer their services to the immigrants and refugees that arrive at the house. One professor specializing in recording torture cases and political violence provides their service to aid in cases for those seeking asylum.


Aside from their partnerships for health services, CJD also relies on several community partners for providing goods and services. For example, local tradespeople such as electricians and plumbers help maintain the living spaces at each of the nine houses with CJD. Community members donate transportation services, used cars, and trucks to the hospitality house. One of their most significant partnerships is with the Houston Food Bank, which supports their food distribution service held every week Monday through Saturday. 


CJD relies on private contributions to create a safe space for undocumented immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized communities that is divorced from any particular religion or law. Yet, they face a significant challenge of finding legal assistance for their residents so that they can leave the facility. Voluntary immigration lawyers are in short supply. Organizations that take on pro bono cases, such as Baker Ripley or Catholic Charities, have rigorous eligibility criteria. For instance, Louise Zwick has personally fronted the legal costs paying as much as $9,000 at a reduced rate for residents with strong cases for seeking asylum (Anonymous, 2021). Meanwhile, others could remain living in limbo at CJD for several years and rely on it to access substantial medical services and care. CJD volunteers have worked to make CJD feel like home and facilitated the residents’ autonomy through organizing potluck dinner parties, events, and weddings. 

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