Lincoln Rice began living at Casa Maria when he was a senior in college. He still calls the organization home after 26
“I think the way Casa Maria is organized has played a large role in why I’m still here,” says Rice, a live-in staff member.
Casa Maria has provided housing to Milwaukee families since 1966. Its founders Annette and Michael Cullen wanted families to feel at home, so they arranged for families and staff to live together and make decisions by consensus. Casa Maria’s four Victorian homes are nestled between gardens on residential streets. The front lawns are dotted with yard signs supporting Black Lives Matter and climate justice, a few of the justice issues staff members are involved in.
Rice says political activism has always been a part of Casa Maria’s mission. One of its founders, Michael Cullen, was a member of the “Milwaukee 14” activist group that burned draft records during the Vietnam war. He and Annette would later found Casa Maria as a married couple before being deported to Ireland for Michael’s activism.
Casa Maria, at the time a fledgling organization based in a convent, managed to grow and thrive as part of the Catholic Worker Movement. The movement started by encouraging volunteers to fight causes of violence and poverty during The Great Depression. It grew to include justice organizations around the U.S.
Rice first read the words of Doris Day, suffragette and founder of the Catholic Worker movement, in high school. He says the Catholic Worker Movement principles of hospitality and community are part of what drew him to Casa Maria. Rice references a familiar quote when describing Casa Maria’s mission:
“The extra coat in your closet belongs to the person without one,” he says.
Casa Maria’s methods of accomplishing its mission change from year to year.
The organization is currently focused on supporting families with open Child Protective Services cases, which Rice says can be biased and disproportionately affect Black families. Casa Maria is also involved in anti-drone protests and boycotting Chase Bank, a major climate change contributor.
Staff members often work closely with other organizations in the Milwaukee area to help support Casa Maria’s mission. Rice says being a member of WNPJ allows him to stay connected to like-minded organizations and recognize the work of young volunteers. Moving into 2023, the need for shelter and support is still ever-present within the community.
Casa Maria will continue its 57-year legacy of providing housing for Milwaukee families — an extra coat to those in need.
You can reach Casa Maria through their Facebook page @CasaMariaCatholicWorker or their
website at casamariacatholicworker.weebly.com