Monday, November 8, 2010

Winona State grad going for broke at Catholic Worker House

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Daniel Wilson, 22, tills a garden Sunday at the Bethany House in Winona. Wilson is a live in worker at the house, which gives homeless, single men a place to eat, sleep and bathe.

Daniel Wilson chooses to live in poverty at Winona's Catholic Worker House. The 22-year-old put aside a biology degree from Winona State University and plans to attend medical school for a life among the poor.

"A lot of people don't understand," Wilson said. "They think along the lines of, ‘You've just spent $40,000 on education and now you're going to live in voluntary poverty among the people that society fears the most.'"

So why does he do it?

The same reason Mother Theresa lived among the poor in Calcutta. Wilson credits her and Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker Movement founder, as his inspirations. Wilson said the women's writings triggered a "tipping point" in his decision to forgo medical school, but "they wouldn't have been as impactful if I wasn't already interested in living with the poor."

Prior to moving into the house, Wilson took several mission trips, including a two-month stay in India, where he job-shadowed doctors and worked with orphans.

Helping at the Catholic Worker House "was something that I wanted to be involved in at some point in my life," Wilson said. "Why not now?"

The extreme lifestyle offers no pay or benefits like a regular job. Instead, live-in residents maintain the house by sweeping floors, washing dishes and tending to the house's garden and nine chickens. "There's no typical day," Wilson said. Sometimes he wakes up to find "five donated boxes of rotten food that need to be sorted through to see what's still good," he said.

The daily activities might seem like ordinary chores, but there is "more to living in the house than being a good housekeeper and turning on the heat," Wilson said.

"It's definitely more than a job. It's a lifestyle," said Diane Leutgeb Munson, a volunteer and past live-in resident at the home. "But you get back a lot."

"In many ways," living in poverty "completely destroys any social race barriers," Wilson said. "It brings everyone to an equal level.

"It was unnerving jumping into it the first time," he said. "I didn't know anyone else." Everyone was playing cards and "I grew up watching TV and playing video games. I didn't know any card games."

Despite his uncomfortable first visit, Wilson committed to attending meals at the house, and he began to enjoy himself as he created relationships with the homeless residents.

"Daniel is very open to meeting and getting to know all kinds of people, even though he may not share the same background," Leutgeb Munson said.

But even Wilson knows his time at the house won't last forever. He's considering the Peace Corps or No More Deaths, an organization with a mission to end death on the U.S. and Mexico border.

Said Wilson: "I don't know if I'll ever go to medical school." Winona Daily News


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