Union Square, May 1, 1933…birthplace of the Catholic Worker movement.

The Catholic Worker Movement traces its beginnings to May 1, 1933, when Dorothy Day and three others distributed an eight-page tabloid newspaper in the midst of a crowded, festive Union Square in New York City. She would later describe the scene as “a hot undulant sea of hats and sun-baked heads, over which floated a disordered array of banners, placards and pennants.”

The newspaper was The Catholic Worker, founded “for those who think that there is no hope for the future, no recognition of their plight,” an editorial inside the paper explained. “It is printed to call their attention to the fact that the Catholic Church has a social program — to let them know that there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual, but for their material welfare.”

As distribution of the paper swelled in the following years, Day and other “Catholic Workers” attempted to live out the ideals they wrote about, founding “houses of hospitality” for the poor and “farming communes” for the unemployed. A movement was born.

Learn more about the history of the Catholic Worker in the articles below.

What is the Catholic Worker?

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This essay was written by Jim Forest on the Catholic Worker Movement for The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History to be published by the Liturgical Press. Jim Forest, once a managing editor of The Catholic Worker, is the author of Love is the Measure: a Biography of Dorothy Day; and Living With Wisdom: a Biography of Thomas Merton. Both are published by Orbis.

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