Today is the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Worker Movement. To celebrate, I’ve collected here some pertinent readings: a few that look to the past, to the Catholic Worker’s beginnings and some of its significant milestones; and a few that look toward the future, reprinted from the latest issue of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker’s Agitator.
Here is Jim Forest’s account of the day that the Catholic Worker was “born” in New York City’s Union Square, plus Dorothy’s lengthier account of the events leading up to that day (from the Foreward to House of Hospitality); her essay for the 25th anniversary (“Workers of the World Unite”); ; and her “On Pilgrimage” column for the fortieth anniversary (May 1973).
An account of the birth of the Catholic Worker Movement on May 1, 1933, in New York City’s Union Square, from the opening paragraphs of “All Is Grace: a Biography of Dorothy Day,” by Jim Forest. “Dorothy found more bewilderment than enthusiasm from those who had the paper thrust into their hands. They all knew The Daily Worker, a Communist paper that was a militant supporter of unions and strikes. But a radical paper, a paper for workers, put out by Catholics?”
Summary: An overview of the beginnings of the Catholic Worker. As a journalist covering the Communist led march on Washington in December 1932, Dorothy yearns and prays to find a way to work for the poor and oppressed. She meets Peter Maurin who “indoctrinates” her in Catholic social teaching and his program to change the social order: starting a newspaper, houses of hospitality, roundtable discussions and farming communes. Includes several of Peter’s essays and details about starting the newspaper and their first houses of hospitality. (DDLW #435).
Summary: Celebrates the 25th anniversary of the C.W. Perceives freedom as the greatest gift to man from God, and advocates a four hour work day, child labor, private property as personal property and manual labor. Personalism works from the bottom up and reminds her readers that Jesus told people, not states, to perform works of mercy. (DDLW #177). The Catholic Worker, May 1958, 1,3,11.
Summary: Series of reflections on the occasion of their 40th anniversary. Laments little time to read, recalls the books Peter Maurin recommended and his constant agitating. Notes the primacy of conscience, defends critics of the Pope, and the need for Christ rooms. Keywords: Philosophy of the CW, obedience, folly of the cross (DDLW #529). The Catholic Worker, May 1973, 1, 8.
Looking to the future
For its April issue, the L.A. Catholic Worker’s Agitator published a series of guest essays reflecting on the future of the Catholic Worker Movement. We’re grateful to have received permission to reprint them here.
The CW “no longer follows in Dorothy Day’s footsteps,” some complain, but I am confident that if on the day I arrived at the CW in New York almost 50 years ago I told Dorothy that I had come to follow in her footsteps, she would have immediately put me on a bus home.
“We live life in precarity, but we will hold on to the belief that God will always provide if we respond to that love with our own practice of love. We may fail daily but we are still called to be a witness, to be the hands and feet of Christ….”
A reflection on the future of the Catholic Worker: ” The climate catastrophe’s quickening pace and capitalism’s unbridled consumption will bring us close to that shell again, and the Catholic Worker’s experiences with living differently may become reality for more and more people.”
Going to our roots, being radical, not liberal or conservative, marks Catholic Workers as a unique blend of old and new.
For this 90th anniversary episode, Theo and Lydia interview Rosalie Riegle about the origins of the Catholic Worker, the Catholic Worker’s early involvement with the labor movement, and why the contemporary Catholic Worker has turned to other issues.
A recent article in The Nation celebrates the hyper-local focus of new Catholic Worker communities. But is this really a “new” trend in the Catholic Worker? And more importantly, in the face of rampant militarism, is it enough by itself?