In the kitchen of a new Catholic Worker house in Milwaukie, Fumi Tosu prepares lunch to be served under a Portland bridge. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
In the kitchen of a new Catholic Worker house in Milwaukie, Fumi Tosu prepares lunch to be served under a Portland bridge. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
" I see my job and the job of the Catholic Worker community as holding that sacred space for grace to enter in.

" Fumi Tosu, who is beginning a Catholic Worker house in Milwaukie
MILWAUKIE — With the theme “creating resilient community,” a group is establishing a Catholic Worker house in a southwest Milwaukie neighborhood.

“We are seeking to respond to the intersecting crises we face — including homelessness, climate change, and social collapse — by gathering and organizing people committed to a world rooted in radical justice and nonviolence,” says a statement from Dandelion House, located on a wooded half acre close to Oak Grove Elementary School.

The plan is to start small, offering housing and hospitality to a few women and then expanding.

Leader of the initiative is Fumi Tosu, who formerly worked at De La Salle North Catholic High School as a teacher and then as chief recruiter for Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest.

Tosu believes the best chance for someone to leave street life comes from familial routines such as communal meals, game nights, chores and gardening.

“A Catholic Worker house can give people some relationships and stability,” he said. “I see my job and the job of the Catholic Worker community as holding that sacred space for grace to enter in. People’s nervous systems can start to calm down. We create space for miracles to happen.”

Tosu imagines monastic-like silence in the mornings so all can tend to their interior lives. He foresees backyard liturgies, optional daily prayer and barbecues.

“This can really be a place where everybody feels welcome,” he said. “Everybody wants to be seen and known. The wealthy person who walks through the door to make a financial gift really wants to be seen and known. So does the person in need.”

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Dandelion House is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a board of directors. The name of the house emerged when Tosu first visited to consider a purchase. The path leading to the home was filled with dandelions. To him, the wildflowers signified God’s natural beauty and were evidence that past owners hadn’t used chemicals on the property.

There are almost 200 Catholic Worker houses in the United States, including Simone Weil House in Northeast Portland, which formed about three years ago. Whereas Simone Weil House is in an urban setting, Dandelion House is semi-rural. Farming and gardening have been key parts of the Catholic Worker tradition. Tosu hopes for a donation of a work truck to aid the agrarian project.

The Catholic Worker movement has dual way of approaching the world: attack unjust systems and show tender care to individuals who have suffered in those systems.

Expect the new community to arrange protests at places like banks that support the fossil fuel industry or companies that make weapons.

Tosu said typical government solutions to problems like global warming end up putting money into the accounts of big corporations. “We are saying put people first,” he explained. He envisions a U.S. labor corps paid to restore watersheds, plant trees and protect old growth forests — activities he said fall in line with Pope Francis’ teaching on care for creation.

Tosu advocates unabashedly and broadly for nonviolence. While condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he also criticizes President Joe Biden for continuing to support arms sales to Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen. Tosu quotes popes who regularly call for an end to war and suggests the U.S. could take great strides on homelessness and climate change with money now budgeted for warfare. Soldiers, he said, could be paid to do more constructive things.

“Like the dandelion breaking through cracks of concrete, we insist on life where death seems to reign,” Tosu said in a recent newsletter.

Charity happens here, too. Tosu and Dandelion House supporters have been serving a weekly hot lunch to about 80 people who convene under the east end of the Morrison Bridge. Tosu doesn’t skimp on ingredients, using high-quality organic items.

“We try to prepare food that feels like a celebration — pulled pork sandwiches, meatball subs, chicken adobo over rice,” he said. “We learn people’s names.”

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Tosu grew up in Tokyo. His parents had joined the church in a nation where only 0.4% of the population is Catholic. For Tosu, Catholicism was the small, pure and prophetic religion that could push wider society to live in better and better ways.

After college at Amherst, Tosu joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and worked with the poor. He later earned a master of divinity degree at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. He taught high school theology for a decade then felt called to serve on the front lines of Christianity. That’s when he joined the Catholic Worker movement in California, living for six years at the Catholic Worker house in San Jose. He relocated to Oregon in 2018.

Part philosopher, Tosu said Catholic Worker houses seek to promote awareness of warfare, other violence, injustice and climate disaster — realities many Americans overlook amid busy lives.

“If we are called to remember Christ in the bread that is broken and the wine poured out, how much more are we asked to remember him in people whose bodies are broken, and whose warm blood is spilled?” he said.

Tosu chides those who try to keep faith and social policy separate. Scripture, both Hebrew and Christian, explicitly takes on social systems that stray from love, justice and peace, he said.

“In the U.S., we personalize the Bible,” Tosu explained. “But it is social and political. The exodus, the exile, the kings of Israel not doing what they should; and Jesus was all about the kingdom of God, and then was crucified by the Roman empire. We forget about that social part even though it is smack dab in our faces.”

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Tosu said building community at the grassroots level is the best remedy for crises like national division and climate change.

In addition to welcoming guests who are trying to get their lives together, Catholic Worker houses generally have already-stable residents like Tosu who guide the community. He is looking for others who may want to join in that role.

The mid-century house, simple and tidy, could fit four guests and a couple permanent residents. Tosu dreams of adding places on the property for more people to stay.

In the Catholic Worker tradition, Tosu won’t seek government money or church grants. Instead, he is building a group of supporters who give modest amounts. He has about 200 people on his list now. He is still reaching out.

“I hope to create a ribbon of life,” he said, “a ribbon that is itself a vision of hopefulness in a time when hope is lacking.”



Learn more

dandelionhouse.org

fumi@dandelionhouse.org

408-910-7074