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Longtime Caregiver Moves on to Take Care of Herself

The Mary House Catholic Worker of Austin is no more. With the retirement of local founder Lynn Goodman-Strauss at the end of March and no successor, the board of directors of the nonprofit voted to close the South Austin home. 

Goodman-Strauss has moved into an assisted living center with her cat, Mittens, and as many books and religious mementos as she could fit. New homes were also found for the clients who lived in the house.

For decades, Mary House Catholic Worker of Austin led by Goodman-Strauss served single adult men and women who were poor and critically ill or dying.

“This is the joy of my life, but I can understand why some people might not want to do this work,” said Goodman-Strauss, who will be 78 in October.

She recognizes she’s slowed down. “I need to care for myself as I cared for others,” she said. “I’ll be in a safe and beautiful place.”

Paulist Father Bruce Nieli, the board president, said the house will be sold to fund Goodman-Strauss’ retirement at the assisted living center.

Father Nieli, who has known Goodman-Strauss for several decades, said it’s difficult to find someone to live the way she did.

Austin’s Mary House was affiliated with the international Catholic Worker Movement founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin to perform Works of Mercy on the streets of New York City.

Goodman-Strauss founded the local Mary House in 1991 in a tiny house on Ninth Street to care for critically ill people until they were financially and medically stable and able to leave. Most of them were homeless or had no one to care for them. Some died at the home.

“We had 89 people die here under our care,” Goodman-Strauss said. One of those was a man in hospice care who wanted to have a dog before he died. They found a schnauzer puppy, whom he named Betty White. The dog now lives with the former guest who took over her care. 

Guests, as the temporary residents were called, came from all religions.

“They were Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim. It didn’t matter,” she said.

As part of the ministry, she lived with them, sharing modest meals at a long table that seated 12. The ministry depended on donations, which helped pay the mortgage on the house. 

Goodman-Strauss was born and raised Jewish but converted to Catholicism as an adult and raised her two sons Catholic. 

Her ministry began by handing out boiled eggs and tortillas in downtown Austin out of the back of her car in the late 1980s. She came to be known as the Egg Lady. 

She fondly remembers one of the first hospice guests at the house. After he died and she was cleaning his room, she found a handwritten note among his clothes. It read: “Thank you for giving me the only home I’ve ever had.”

Well done, good and faithful servant!

Enedelia Obregón has written for the Catholic Spirit since 1997. She is a parishioner of St. Thomas More Parish in Austin. She enjoys finding native plants for her organic garden.