Catholic Worker Movement

The Catholic Worker Movement is a collection of autonomous[1] communities of Catholics and their associates founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the United States 1933. Its aim is to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ."[2] One of its guiding principles is hospitality towards those on the margin of society, based on the principles of communitarianism and personalism. To this end, the movement claims over 213 local Catholic Worker communities providing social services.[3] Each house has a different mission, going about the work of social justice in its own way, suited to its local region.

Catholic Worker houses are not official organs of the Catholic Church, and their activities, inspired by Day's example, may be more or less overtly religious in tone and inspiration depending on the particular institution. The movement campaigns for nonviolence and is active in opposing both war and the unequal global distribution of wealth. Dorothy Day also founded The Catholic Worker newspaper, still published by the two Catholic Worker houses in New York City and sold for a penny a copy.


The Catholic Worker Movement started with the Catholic Worker newspaper, created by Dorothy Day to advance Catholic social teaching and stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930s. Day attempted to put her words from the Catholic Worker into action through "houses of hospitality"[4] and then through a series of farms for people to live together communally. The idea of voluntary poverty was advocated for those who volunteered to work at the houses of hospitality.[5] Many people would come to the Catholic Workers for assistance, only to become Workers themselves.[6] Initially, these houses of hospitality had little organization and no requirements for membership.[7] As time passed, however, some basic rules and policies were established.[8] Day appointed the directors of each of the houses, but tried to maintain autonomy in the actual running of the houses. Because of this policy, the houses varied in both size and character: in the 1930s, the St. Louis Workers served 3400 people a day while the Detroit Workers served around 600 a day.[9]

The Catholic Worker newspaper spread the idea to other cities in the United States as well as to Canada and the United Kingdom through the reports printed by those who had experienced working in the houses of hospitality.[10] More than 30 independent but affiliated communities had been founded by 1941. Between 1965-1980 an additional 76 communities were founded with 35 of these still in existence today,[11] such as the "Hippie Kitchen" founded in the back of a van by two Catholic Workers on Skid Row, Los Angeles in the 1970s.[12] Well over 200 communities exist today, including several in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden.[13]

Co-founder Dorothy Day, who died in 1980, is currently under consideration for sainthood by the Catholic Church.[14]

Beliefs of the Catholic Worker

"Our rule is the works of mercy," said Dorothy Day. "It is the way of sacrifice, worship, a sense of reverence."

According to co-founder Peter Maurin, the following are the beliefs of the Catholic Worker:[15]

  1. gentle personalism of traditional Catholicism.
  2. personal obligation of looking after the needs of our brother.
  3. daily practice of the Works of Mercy.
  4. Houses of Hospitality for the immediate relief of those who are in need.
  5. establishment of Farming Communes where each one works according to his ability and receives according to his need.
  6. creating a new society within the shell of the old[16] with the philosophy of the new.

The radical philosophy of the group can be described as Christian anarchism.[17][18] Anne Klejment, a history lecturer at the University of St. Thomas, wrote of the movement:

The Catholic Worker considered itself a Christian anarchist movement. All authority came from God; and the state, having by choice distanced itself from Christian perfectionism, forfeited its ultimate authority over the citizen... Catholic Worker anarchism followed Christ as a model of nonviolent revolutionary behavior... He respected individual conscience. But he also preached a prophetic message, difficult for many of his contemporaries to embrace.[19]

Family involvement in the Catholic Worker movement

Families have had a variety of roles in the Catholic Worker movement.[20] Because those donating funds to the houses of hospitality were primarily interested in helping the poor, the higher cost of maintaining a volunteer family (as opposed to maintaining an individual volunteer) conflicted with the wishes of those donating.[21] Author Daniel McKanan has suggested that, for a variety of reasons, Dorothy Day's perspective on family involvement in the movement was controversial.[22] Despite these elements of conflict, families have participated in the Catholic Worker movement through multiple avenues: some assist the houses of hospitality while others open up a “Christ room” in their homes for people in need.[23] There are many other opportunities for family involvement in the Catholic Worker as well, with some families running their own houses of hospitality.[24]

See also

Similar Christian movements


  1. Robert Waldrop, "About the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House," Retrieved August 17, 2011.
  2. "The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker" from The Catholic Worker newspaper, May 2002
  3. "Catholic Worker Movement". 1933-05-01. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
  4. Piehl, Mel (1982). Breaking Bread: The Catholic Worker and the Origin of Catholic Radicalism in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 96.
  5. Piehl, p.98.
  6. Piehl, p.107.
  7. Piehl, pp.98-99.
  8. Piehl, p.106.
  9. Piehl, p.110.
  10. Piehl, Mel (1982). Breaking Bread: The Catholic worker and the Origin of Catholic Radicalism in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 107.
  11. Dan McKanan, The Catholic Worker After Dorothy, 2008. Pp 75-76.
  12. Streeter, Kurt (2014-04-09). "A couple's commitment to skid row doesn't waver". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
  13. Directory of Catholic Worker Communities "List of Catholic Worker Communities" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  14. "Saint Dorothy Day? Controversial, Yes, But Bishops Push for Canonization". Huffington Post. 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
  15. Maurin, Peter. "What the Catholic Worker Believes".
  16. The concept of "a new society within the shell of the old" appeared in the preamble to the constitution of the IWW, though there not given a religious rationale
  17. Cornell, Tom (May 2010). "In Defense of Anarchism". Catholic Worker. LXXVII (77th Anniversary Issue): 4–5.
  18. Prentiss, Craig R. (2008). Debating God's Economy: Social Justice in America on the Eve of Vatican II. p. 74. Subsidiarity and its value in promoting the philosophy of personalism was also key to undergirding perhaps the most distinctive element of the CW ideology, its Christian anarchism
  19. Klejment, Anne; Patrick Coy (1988). A Revolution of the heart: essays on the Catholic worker. Temple University Press. pp. 293–294.
  20. McKanan, Daniel (April 2007). "The Family, the Gospel, and the Catholic Worker". The Journal of Religion. 87 (2). JSTOR 10.1086/510646.
  21. McKanan, Daniel (March 2007). "Inventing the Catholic Worker Family". Church History. 76 (1): 94. doi:10.1017/s0009640700101428. JSTOR 27644925.
  22. McKanan, Daniel (March 2007). "Inventing the Catholic Worker Family". Church History. 76 (1). JSTOR 27644925.
  23. McKanan, Daniel (April 2007). "The Family, the Gospel, and the Catholic Worker". The Journal of Religion. 87 (2): 154. doi:10.1086/510646. JSTOR 10.1086/510646.
  24. McKanan, Daniel (April 2007). "The Family, the Gospel, and the Catholic Worker". The Journal of Religion. 87 (2): 158. doi:10.1086/510646. JSTOR 10.1086/510646.


Further reading

External links

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