Arts & Culture
11:53 am
Thu December 26, 2013

Milwaukeean Dedicates Life to Peacemaking

Don Timmerman describes how he has spent his life helping others in the pursuit of peace.

Don Timmerman in his small office at Milwaukee's Casa Maria.

Don Timmerman's mission as a peacemaker dates back to the 1960s.

Don Timmerman has spent a lifetime helping people in need. The former Catholic priest has worked at Casa Maria, since the 1960s. The two-story bungalow on Milwaukee’s north side provides shelter to homeless families and single women. He has also practiced peaceful protest against violence. We spoke with him as part our year end, “Life’s Voices” series.

Timmerman relaxes a bit in his chair as he frames an answer to my first question regarding his lifelong mission of peacemaking.

“Christ was right when he said, ‘If you give everything you have to help other people, you will experience great joy,’ and that’s what we experiences, that’s what keeps us going here.  We’re voluntarily poor for the sake of others and we live simply so that others can simply live. We try to make the world a better place by making it easier for people to be good, that’s what we try to do here at Casa Maria,” Timmerman says.

Besides volunteer work at Casa Maria, Timmerman participates with the group Wisconsin Peace Action to protest against war, including American involvement in Afghanistan…

“You know, we would make much more progress in creating peace in the world if we created friendships throughout the world. The way you do that is not by looking for profit for yourself, but profit for the whole human race. I consider myself a world citizen, I don’t consider myself an American citizen only, but a world citizen. Also, the idea of how your taxes are used –you have to speak out against that if you see it wrong, that taxes should be used in a different way, you should say so. My wife and I have been war tax resistors for over 20 some years. That means that you live below the poverty lines so that you’re not supposed to pay taxes and that’s the only way you can do it,” Timmerman says.

He pauses briefly, then continues.

“We’re called to make the world a better place. If we see something wrong we need to speak out against it in a non-violent way. We never use violence to try and get our way. But, we use non-violence as a means of accomplishing something that we believe is very important for our world. You know we want to treat the environment well. We want to grow our own food if we possibly can and we have most of our food is grown right here on this block. We have this house, and then Pat’s House, Lazarus House, Mapendo House and Harmony House all on this block. Each of the houses fulfills the ideals of Christian hospitality and feeding the hungry and all of that,” Timmerman says.

I asked Timmerman is he was happy with his life.

“Oh yes, I’m very happy. I’m unhappy when I’m not doing something for somebody. The secret is give things up that you would like to have and help other people with those things, that you will become happy yourself. And, not only the people that receive, but  the people who give. I also believe the reason this place exists is because of donations from other people who contribute to the house and this helps them too, because every person, to be fully human I believe, needs to be able to give as well as receive. If you receive only, I think it diminishes your humanness, but you need to have the ability to give something. That’s what our guests need is the ability to give something. So, we give them chores to do because that way they also feel they are giving of themselves and it makes them happy too. If people live according to that, I think we’ll have a happier society,” Timmerman says.

He says he is also optimistic about the future because he sees a younger generation behind him that is committed to the work of peacemaking.

“We are so amazed by the wonderful young people who come to volunteer here, and live in our community and work with us. So that gives us great hope. Even some of our guests become volunteers and continue with us. That’s the way we want it. We want people to be able to volunteer and feel free to do that and give up their time and money and so forth for the sake of other people,” Timmerman says.