Last time I introduced my neighbor Judith Williams—mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and music therapist. She is involved in more committees and organizations than most people are during their entire lives. But age and obstacles have never slowed her down, not even after two hip surgeries. She turned 80 this month.
Here’s a glimpse of her life over the decades.
Catholic Worker House
In 1997, Judith moved into a house designated as a Catholic Worker home . These homes, designed to give food and housing to those in need, arose from a movement in the 1930s begun by social visionaries Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Besides caring for the poor, Catholic Workers protest injustice, racism, and violence.
Seeking radical reform, Dorothy Day was passionate about justice, especially for the poor. The basis for her principles was Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. For years, she wrote and distributed a newspaper promoting her ideas.
Rooted in Christian faith and social justice, Dorothy and Peter’s vision first took shape in a New York City soup kitchen and evolved into a “house of hospitality.” This inspired dozens more, as well as farms in Iowa and Wisconsin to raise produce for them.
Over time, more Catholic Worker communities sprouted across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Currently, about 150 houses exist, most in the U.S.
“Our rule is the works of mercy.
It is the way of sacrifice, worship, a sense of reverence.”
“I want a change, and a radical change.
I want a change from an acquisitive society to a functional society,
from a society of go-getters to a society of go-givers.”
Judith and others got approval for non-profit 501-3c status and bought a $129,000 two-story Victorian house. She was the CW board president.
The house Judith lives in was zoned for medical needs. The board initially sponsored two people with surgical needs from Central America. The board found a surgeon at Waukesha Memorial Hospital who would treat them without compensation. For years, patients came from Guatemala, El Salvadore, and Nicaragua, two at a time.
Eventually, travel expenses were too much so the CW board redirected their efforts. They housed patients who needed extended outpatient therapy for mental health issues at Rogers Memorial Hospital and Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Recently, they’ve redirected again to focus on medical needs.
The board is currently seeking a younger person to join them and share the leadership.
Judith is also a founding member of the Plowshare Center in Waukesha (1989). In the 1980s, several people formed a board, desiring to support multiple communities and connect Waukesha to central and south America.
The Plowshare Center was originally called
The Waukesha Center for Peace and Justice.
It is a non-profit center whose mission is to
“Create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world
through socially responsible shopping
and transformative educational experiences.”
The Plowshare Fair Trade Marketplace on Main Street (1990) features 121 artists around the world, offers peace education classes, and co-sponsors a peace vigil (with Catholic Workers) every Sunday at noon by the library (since 2001).
Though no longer involved directly with Plowshares, Judith donates plants to the annual fund-raiser silent auction Gala at Carroll University. Her plants are signed “Judy’s Garlands.” The instructions say “Water me Wednesday & Sunday. Give me a drink, not a bath.”
This is an inter-denominational faith-based community promoting social justice. Their mission is to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives.”
Pastors and church laity comprise the committees. The issues members tackle are health care, housing, immigration, transit, and criminal justice reform.
Judith is on the board (since the beginning), representing The Catholic Worker. She also works on the criminal justice reform task force: Treatment Instead of Prison (TIP). Each of these meets three times monthly.
Studies show that 80% of inmates have mental health issues and don’t get proper treatment in prison. Additionally, many crimes are related to drug and alcohol issues. The TIP task force takes these statistics seriously and has a vision for implementing more effective methods of dealing with offenders.
As a result, one accomplishment is the formation of the alcohol court in Waukesha. Now, instead of doing time in prison, offenders are on probation and go to court weekly. They must abide by various stipulations.
School in Nicaragua
In 2010, Judith’s parents left an inheritance that she immediately put to good use. With the help of Dr. Arnie Matlin, she donated money to build a school in Jiquelite, Nicaragua.
There was money leftover to build a kitchen next to it (also funded by The Catholic Worker). Since children were walking 45 minutes to get water before school began, they built a well, too.
Currently, students from kindergarten to sixth grade attend, in addition to a pre-school program.
Attending a retreat in Iowa used to be an annual event, but the last time Judith attended was 3 years ago. She’d always been active in leadership, but that particular time, the young people in attendance didn’t include her. It was very hurtful. Due to her age, she felt unseen and unappreciated, as if she had nothing to offer.
Unfortunately for those young folks, they missed out on an abundance of wisdom from Judith’s wealth of experience. Sad to say, it’s a chronic condition many young people suffer from nowadays.
Besides writing weekly letters to inmates, Judith plays guitar and helps lead the men’s worship service every Sunday at the Waukesha County Jail. The service is sponsored by St. Vincent de Paul.
Judith is Spiritual Director for the SVDP Jail Ministry, called St. Dismas, named for the penitent thief crucified beside Jesus. She counsels at the jail.
“I get so much more than I give.”
Currently, she is trying to help an inmate who has been in prison 20-plus years connect with the youth in Milwaukee. He has written a letter to encourage young men to not do as he did, but to make good choices and seek the best in life.
It’s no surprise to find Judith involved in jail ministry. She has unique compassion for inmates. That’s because she has been an inmate herself, arrested for her non-violent peace activities. While in Pekin Prison in Illinois, she experienced a call to jail ministry.
More on that next time . . .
When you imagine a better world, is there something you’ve done or would like to do to make that world a reality?
I’d love to hear from you!