Catholic Worker to Buddhist Entrepreneur

Kathe McKenna’s Haley House Serves as Model for Zen Houses

In the Zen Houses panel at the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism, Kathe McKenna explained that after she finished college in the 1960’s, abuses violating civil rights moved her to fight back.  She got involved in radical Christian groups, eventually finding a home with the Catholic Workers in Boston.  In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “You who are blessed…For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”  Catholic Workers took this literally.  When Kathe and her future husband John saw men starving and drunk on the street, they saw ambassadors of God.  They brought the men to their apartment and fed them slowly building a atypical soup kitchen where guests are welcomed with dignity.  Kathe explained how years of sharing her purse and heart wore on her and continued injustice angered her.  It was the non-violent message of Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhists who gave her an alternative to joining the Weather Men and eventually, vajrayana Buddhist practice came to play a very significant role in her life.

In her search to expand the Haley House Soup kitchen and low-income housing into social enterprise, she sought contact with Bernie Glassman.  As Greyston became an inspiration for the Haley House Bakery Café, Haley House became an inspiration for Zen Houses.  Today, Kathe and other Haley House community members (including Christians, Buddhists and others) recognize that their spiritual practice has meant a lot to their development.  They wonder how they could provide support for inner development to the people who come to Haley House seeking food and community.

I interned at Haley House for nine months after completing the Zen Peacemakers Seminary in Montague, MA.  During that time, Kathe and I and others introduced Buddhist practice as an option for community members.  With Kathe as an advising board member to the Zen Peacemakers, I have been pleased to return to Montague and take part in the creation of a community meal on our own campus.

Want to experience the Zen House?  Check out our residence training program.  You can also support the Zen Houses and view this presentation by purchasing DVD’s of this panel.

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