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Catholic Worker

Catholic Worker

In December 1932, Dorothy Day, a radical journalist, met Peter Maurin, a Franciscan monk. The couple decided to establish the Catholic Worker, a newspaper that would be able to publicize Catholic social teaching. Day became editor and the first edition appeared on 1st May, 1933. The newspaper criticised the economic system and supported organisation such as trade unions that were attempting to create a more equal society. It also argued that the Catholic Church should be a pacifist organization. Day and Maurin believed the nonviolent way of life was at the heart of the Gospel.

The Catholic Worker became a vehicle for creating a national movement. By 1936 there were 33 Catholic Worker Houses spread out across the country. These were charitable, self-help communities for people suffering the effects of the Depression. Today there are 130 of these houses in 32 states and eight foreign countries.

The Catholic Worker encountered problems during the Spanish Civil War. Most Catholics in the United States supported the fascists and saw Franco as the defender of the Catholic faith. As pacifists, Day and Maurin refused to support either side. As a result the newspaper lost two-thirds of its readers.

Even during the Second World War, Day maintained her pacifism. This was an unpopular stance to take and over the first few months of the war, fifteen Catholic Worker Houses were forced to close as volunteer workers withdrew their support from the organization.

Dorothy Day was publisher, editor and chief writer, of the Catholic Worker until her death in 1980. Since then the Catholic Worker movement has had no central leader. However the movement continues to grow and by 1995 there were 131 Catholic Worker Houses in the United States. The Catholic Worker has a circulation of about 100,000.

There are two billion people in the world and if we believed all we read in the paper everyone must line up on the side of Communism or Americanism, Catholicism, Capitalism, which the most Catholic newspapers would have us believe are synonymous. Of course, there are bad Americans, bad Catholics and bad capitalists, but still, they say, you can't print such holy pictures as you have in this Christmas issue in Russia, and you can't oppose war and the draft and taxes, as you do, without being thrown into concentration camps, if you are in Russia or a satellite country.

In our eulogies of poverty which we have printed again and again in The Catholic Worker, one of which is running in this issue of the paper, we write with the recognition that we stand as Americans, representing in the eyes of the world the richest nation on earth. What does it matter that we live with the poor, with those of the skid rows, and that those in our other houses throughout the country are living with poverty which is so great a scandal in a land of plenty. We know that we can never attain to the poverty of the destitute around us. We awake with it in our ears in the morning, listening to the bread line forming under our window, and we see it lined up even on such a day as the gale of last Saturday when glass and tin and bricks were flying down the street. The only way we can make up for it is by giving of our time, our strength, our cheerfulness, our loving kindness, our gentleness to all.


Inspired by the life of Jesus and the communion of Saints, the Catholic Worker (CW) movement was brought to life in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Dorothy, a journalist, social activist and convert to Catholicism had a providential meeting with Peter, a French peasant, Christian philosopher. Together they weaved a tapestry of ideals and practices that breathed new life into the potent message found in the social teachings of the church. Their radical interpretation of the Christian message took hold of the hearts and minds of people in search of a way to in flesh the deepest promptings of the human soul- to live compassion and mercy. Since its beginnings the CW movement has grown steadily finding expression in hundreds of communities in the USA and abroad.

Julia Occhiogrosso and Rick Chun founded the Las Vegas Catholic Worker in 1986. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Catholic Worker (LACW), the LVCW was to be the first of many sister houses born out of the tutelage and support of the LA house. Julia Occhiogrosso first came out to the Nevada Desert during the Nevada Desert Experiences’ Lenten Desert Witness at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. Ten days of prayer and vigiling at the test site inspired Julia to encourage the LACW community to participate with Nevada Desert Experience's ongoing nonviolent peace actions at the Test Site. The LACW began to organize groups to come out from LA to join in peace actions at the test site.

In August of 1986, Julia, Rick Chun and other volunteers from the LACW community trekked out to Las Vegas to renovate a small house at 1309 Gold Street. Within in a few months the house was up and running with a Newsletter, Manna in the Wilderness, coffee line for day laborers, liturgies, hospitality and “stop nuclear testing” vigils at the federal building.

In 1991 Gary Cavalier, a Catholic Worker from San Louis Obispo, came to Las Vegas to support the Las Vegas house. He and Julia were married in 1995. Together with their two sons and the family of CW volunteers they continue to experiment with the grand adventure of living the hope of the Catholic Worker vision.

In 1986 Gold Avenue became the first home for the Las Vegas Catholic Worker Community

St. John the Baptist House relocated in 1989 to a larger house on West Van Buren Avenue

Another hospitality house was built in 2003 next to the Saint John the Baptist House

Gary & Julia on the morning of the adoption of their sons Jonathan and Nicholas - May 1997

Catholic Worker - History

The Catholic Worker Movement The Catholic Worker Movement --> The Catholic Worker Movement

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How can I subscribe to The Catholic Worker newspaper?

The Catholic Worker newspaper is not online. Subscription or copy requests must be sent by regular mail to The Catholic Worker, 36 East First Street, New York, NY 10003, United States. Phone: 212-777-9617. The newspaper was started by Dorothy Day herself in New York City in the 1930s'. The price has been and will remain a penny a copy, excluding mailing costs. It is issued seven times per year and a year's subscription is available for 25 cents (30 cents for foreign subscriptions), though all donations in excess of that amount go to the hospitality houses associated with the paper, Maryhouse and St. Joseph House.

Question: How can I make a contribution to the Catholic Worker?

Donations and gifts to the Catholic Worker can be sent to any Catholic Worker community. All have more needs than the resources to meet them. Perhaps you could go to http://www.catholicworker.org/communities/directory-picker.html and locate a house or community near you or one whose description matches your concerns. If necessary, you will have to check if a community is tax-exempt or not, some are but most are not.

Since each house or community is independent of all the others, there is no central way for a gift to one community to be shared with the others.

If your intent was to give a gift to the New York community that publishes The Catholic Worker newspaper, their address is: The Catholic Worker, 36 East First Street, New York, NY 10003, Phone: 212-777-9617.

Thank you for thinking of the needs of the Catholic Worker movement.

Question: Where is Dorothy Day buried?

Dorothy Day is buried in Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island, New York. Her grave, near the office, has a symbol of loaves and fishes and reads "Dorothy Day, November 8, 1897 - November 29, 1980, DEO GRATIAS". A map to the cemetery can be found on map websites using the address: 361 Sharrott Ave, Staten Island, NY. It is near Tottenville, Staten Island.

Question: What's the name of that recent movie about Dorothy Day?

Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (Paulist Pictures, 1996, 112 min.) is available on video in some video rental stores. The movie, featuring Moira Kelly as Dorothy and Martin Sheen as Peter Maurin, covers Dorothy Day's early life and the founding of the Catholic Worker movement to about 1938. The movie only hints at the profound works for peace and justice that would follow in the next 40 years. But well worth watching.

A new documentary by Claudia Larson titled Dorothy Day: Don't Call Me a Saint is not yet commercially available. Watch this website for an announcement when it is on DVD.

Question: I want to volunteer in a Catholic Worker community.

Volunteer opportunities in Catholic Worker houses are rarely advertised. Occasionally you may find ads in the New York Catholic Worker newspaper or in Sojourners magazine. We advise interested persons to contact the Catholic Worker house they are interested in directly. An online directory of Catholic Worker houses with address, phone and occasionally a description of the community's activities, can be found at http://www.catholicworker.org/communities/volunteer.html. In addition, the New York Catholic Worker newspaper publishes a list of houses in their May edition. See previous question for where to write.

Question: I want to start a Catholic Worker house.

Anyone can start a Catholic Worker house and there are many ways to do it. You do not need permission to call yourself a Catholic Worker. Before you do so, however, you would probably want to make sure that your philosophy and activities are generally in accord with The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker. Our general advice is:

    Do an informal needs assessment of your community. Where are the unmet needs? What services does your house want to provide?

When you have started a Catholic Worker house, please send information about your new house to The Catholic Worker newspaper (See above), the online Catholic Worker Directory of Communities (See above) and the Catholic Worker Archives (See above).

Question: I want printed information, photos, etc. about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker.

All the information we have is on this Web site and those to which it is linked. You are welcome to download anything you want for personal use. Please observe any copyright restrictions. News media or publishers wanting photographs or scholars wanting primary materials for research are invited to contact the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University.

Question: How do I get copyright permission to reproduce Catholic Worker art by Fritz Eichenberg, Ade Bethune, and others?

    Fritz Eichenberg used to make his art work available free to any Catholic Worker publication when he was alive. Since he has passed on, his artistic estate is being managed by an intellectual property firm named VAGA: Visual Artists and Galleries Association, Inc. They do not share Eichenberg's philosophy and will charge you an arm and a leg to reproduce his work if you decide to contact them — even for nonprofit, non-commercial use. It's sad, really, and we would hope that some generous benefactor would buy the rights to Eichenberg's Catholic Worker pieces and donate them to the Catholic Worker Archives so that they might be publicly and freely available for non-commercial use as he had intended. Most CW newspapers with limited circulation don't know or don't care about this and continue to use Eichenberg's work as before. Contact:
    VAGA, Inc.
    350 Fifth Avenue,
    Suite 6305
    New York, NY 10018
    Tel: 212-736-6666, 212-736-6767 (fax)

A collection of Eichenberg prints is available in an 8 1/2 by 11 inch book titled Fritz Eichenberg: Works of Mercy published by Orbis Books.

Question: I'm looking for a copy of the poster or the famous photo of Dorothy Day on the United Farm Workers picket line.

The poster, with the quotation "Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system", is available online from Donnelly/Colt Progressive Resources Catalog at http://www.progressivecatalog.com/catalog/socjusposter.html.

The original photo on which the poster was based was taken by Bob Fitch. His work is available for licensing from Black Star. Contact them for more information but be forewarned that the licensing fees are steep and no exception or discount is made for nonprofit, non-commercial use.

Catholic Worker - History

Karen House Catholic Worker

Karen House belongs to the "second generation" of the Catholic Worker in St. Louis. Catholic Workers were active in St. Louis from 1935 until 1942, and again in 1977 when a new house of hospitality was opened.

Named for its first guest, Karen House was founded in 1977 by seven women as a shelter for women and children. At one point, Karen House housed seventy guests in a building more suited for thirty. It was one of very few shelters for women at the time, and commented Virginia Druhe, one of the founders, "We learned everything by doing it wrong the first time." Gradually, the community members began to accept fewer people in order to provide them with better hospitality.

1840 Hogan St.

Saint Louis, MO 63106

Today about 30 people, including five community members, live in Karen House. Several community members also live in the surrounding neighborhood. The Karen House community strives to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy within the context of a crowded and chaotic house. Food and sandwiches are given out daily between 12:30 and 3:30. All are welcome to the Tuesday night Mass held in the upstairs chapel, and to the community-led liturgy on the second Tuesday of the month. Karen House publishes The Roundtable quarterly, and Roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought are sometimes held in the big dining room.

The Karen House community is supported by a huge local network of volunteers, friends, cooks, and housetakers. Donations of food, clothing, and supplies made to the house are shared with the neighbors and guests by the community, and money donated supports the bills, maintenance, and general running of the house.

The "second Generation'' of the Catholic Worker in St. Louis has included several &ldquoexperiments in truth.&rdquo over the years. By far, the largest endeavor was Cass House. Between 1978 and 1988, Cass House served an immense number of people. Accommodating both men, and women & children in separate areas, Cass House was a huge operation that also included a soupline. The tremendous demand for leadership and dedicated volunteers at Cass House led to it's termination in 1988. In addition to problems with lack of people, the city would have required the house to undergo widespread repairs to remain in operation. The community had not the people-power, nor the resources, to continue.

The Ella Dixon House is another such experiment in truth. Known also as "Little House," the Ella Dixon House is a smaller and more long-term establishment for those with low income, which provides three apartments for guests.

The Dorothy Day Co-Housing Community attempted to create a more egalitarian community between Catholic Worker-types, and former guests of Karen House. The community existed for five years, with members meeting weekly and supporting one another. Participants all lived within the Karen House neighborhood. Meals were shared, kids received new opportunities for education, and a truly radical experiment was conducted.

New communities are emerging in the Karen House neighborhood as we speak! The Carl Kabat Catholic Worker community is beginning a new ministry of offering hospitality to immigrants. The Teka Childress Catholic Worker House, still being rehabbed, will offer longer-term hospitality to one family.

In the Spring of 1935, Saint Louis University (SLU) invited Dorothy Day to address the University. Addressing a packed house, Dorothy gently suggested that the SLU community begin a house of hospitality, soupline or discussion group, citing a group of Boston College students as examples.

Inspired by Dorothy's visit, graduate student, Cyril Echele contacted all of the subscribers to the Catholic Worker from the St. Louis area, inviting them to form a group. By March of the following year, this group had an address, a small following, and a new name: Campion Propaganda Committee. A failed farming commune experience that summer did not deter the group from continuing its work in the City. The Campion Book Shop, located at 3526 Franklin Ave., just north of the SLU campus, opened in the fall of 1936. Weekly meetings were held to discuss personalism, unemployment and other pressing issues. These early Catholic Workers are remembered as a "starry-eyed group full of enthusiasm" by Echele. As the line for coffee and bread increased every day, so too did the fervor of this small band of lay people.

A sit-down strike at Emerson Electric in the spring of 1937 provided the Workers an opportunity to support the strikers within the context of the liturgy. The Catholic Workers were interested in integrating spirituality into all aspects of life, including work. The relationship between labor and liturgy was one that would be explored in many discussions and lectures. A small newsletter, Catholic Alliance, discussing liturgy and social action, was begun, and freely distributed on the street.

The Catholic Workers took an interest in interracial activity, an unpopular subject in St. Louis during this time period. They agitated for the desegregation of SLU, and provided doctrine classes for the People of the "colored" Catholic parish, St. Elizabeth. When the Workers moved to Pine Street, to a building across from the College Church, they named St. Louis Hospice, a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine class was held for "about thirty colored children." Several of the women made hospital visits as the varieties of social services increased. Speakers visited, lecturing on liturgy and its relationship to literature, family, and art, among other subjects. As both a soupline and a shelter, St. Louis Hospice endured tenuously, as many Worker houses do. Moving their operation to a duplex at 312 South Duchouquette Street was the beginning of the end for the St. Louis Catholic Worker. Suffering from a lack of leadership, enticed by the booming wartime economy, and caught up in the wartime fever, many Workers moved on or got married. In late 1942, the doors were cl osed as a chapter in the history of the St. Louis Catholic Worker ended.


Dorothy Day was the bold advocate for social change. She believed that even though we could petition for large scale legislative change, it was better (and faster) to make small change at the personal level.

Dorothy grew up in the early 1900’s in New York in a family of journalists and social activists. It was not her family’s dream that she too would become a journalist. However, she found deep motivation to write as an activist for human rights. These included justice for workers, minorities, and women’s voting rights. Dorothy lived a radical life but had a great deal of personal struggle through these early years. After a failed relationship in September of 1919, Day had an abortion from her relationship with Lionel Moise. This decision created significant damage, but led to a powerful witness that she would spend the rest of her life telling.

Day soon got into another relationship which became a quasi-common-law marriage. After some time with Forster Batterham, she was pregnant again. Against Forster’s wishes, the baby was born and Dorothy decided to baptize her into the Catholic Church. During the later years of her relationship with Forster, she began getting to know several people who not only identified as Catholic, but acted like it also. She saw a great deal of service to the poor that really attracted her to later be baptized herself, following her daughter, Tamar.

In the years following, she made use of her journalism skills and began writing for papers representing minority groups. It was through this avenue that Peter Maurin had come to know who she was. Peter showed up on Dorothy’s front step after getting her address from the paper and immediately began preaching to her the need for urgent change. With the great depression happening during this time, employment was poor, living conditions harsh and support resources non-existent. The crazy 55 year old Maurin carried conversation with her as if they had known each other for years. Thinking the man crazy for his over-the-top ideas and french temperament, she initially blew him off.

After much prayer and thought, she considered his ideas of starting a newspaper, sold for a penny, that would publish articles outlining current injustices and thoughts on human dignity. The paper started slow but ballooned after union workers began clinging to it. It was soon named The Catholic Worker. Eventually, Dorothy and Peter would write about houses to shelter the homeless and farms to feed them, in an ideal world. Soon after they wrote about these ideas, a woman approached them and asked, “So I understand you have Houses of Hospitality…” Later that day, Dorothy and Peter walked down the street to rent out several apartments and begin their first Catholic Worker house.

In the years to follow, several more houses would open up along with several farms and retreat houses. Today there are more than 200 communities of Catholic Workers around the world.

To learn more about the history of the movement, take a look at this sweet documentary that was just released recently:

Our History

In January 1982, Brett and Lisa Vanderlinden put a $1,000 down-payment on a house at 1027 5th Avenue SE. With the help and dedication of several others, they would soon open what we know today as Catholic Worker House (CWH).

Through transitions over the years, we now serve single women and married couples with or without children. We serve breakfast and warm dinner daily. One of Lisa Vanderlinden’s favorite quotes came from St. Theresa of Avila: “Life is but a night spent in an uncomfortable inn, crowded together with other wayfarers.” This is still very true today.

The name, St. John of the Cross Catholic Worker House, was chosen because St. John of the Cross lived a life of poverty and imprisonment. After his escape from prison, he dedicated his life to tending to the many needs of the homeless and poor around him. Today at CWH we continue to reach out to those who need us.

The opening of the Catholic Worker House was a step in the right direction for our community. Lisa Vanderlinden said, “We are learning a very important lesson. The Catholic Worker House is much more than a house. It is a Christian community dedicated to helping the poor. Even though we had a house and furniture, without people willing to live in the house as staff, a Catholic Worker House would not exist. The driving force of the Catholic must be from the inside, reaching outward…”

In 2009 Larissa Ruffin took over as House Manager. Since her arrival we have:

Dorothy Day, Speaking at draft-card burning demonstration, Union Square, New York, NY, 6 November 1965, Photo by Diana Davies, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

We recognize that to transcend where we are, we must include the history that brought us here. Trinity House Catholic Worker is an inclusive contemplative community rooted in the tradition of The Catholic Worker movement of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.


Peter Maurin left his birth country, France, traveled to Canada, and eventually came to America in 1911. He wandered from job to job and city to city, penniless. In 1925 he accepted an invitation to move to New York City and there he began to speak out about his convictions, meeting with people to discuss how to implement his ideas. He met with Dorothy Day in December of 1932 and by May of 1933 the first issue of the Catholic Worker was published. He saw parts of his plan come to fruition during the next several years, including Round Table Discussions, Houses of Hospitality, and Farming Communes. He died on May 15, 1949 at the farming commune of Newburgh.


A life of poverty is a life that emulates the person of Jesus Christ. Suffering through giving up all material goods on this earth is to join in suffering with Christ because he gave up everything. After the model of Saint Francis, Maurin dedicated his life to poverty. Through becoming poor, one followed Christ and embodied the salvation message that Christ preached. For Maurin this poverty was also a witness to the community around him. It challenged them to forget the material and embrace the spiritual. If a community would adopt poverty, they too would emulate the message of Christ. Maurin believed this to be the road to the spirit and freedom. A person became free through giving up everything and becoming dependent upon God. By giving up all, life became focused on prayer and service. The community was now easily able to encourage cooperation and tend to the spirituality of the individual. This was the way to rebuild the Church and a new social order—through faith and contemplation, not through seeking affluence.


Peter Maurin wanted to transform society. The Catholic Worker movement was founded to spiritualize the social order. Along with Dorothy Day, he proposed a personal, decentralized society, a village-functional economy, and a life with spirituality as its center and an obligation to neighbor.

Round Table Discussions, Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes – those were the three planks in Peter Maurin's platform. A strong believer in education through dialogue, Maurin advocated "round table discussions for the clarification of thought." Friday night meetings quickly became a tradition of the Catholic Worker community.


Peter Maurin wanted to see people from various philosophical viewpoints come together and discuss their thoughts. By engaging in conversation, intellectual positions could be clarified. Maurin wanted both scholars and workers alike to attend. He felt that society had placed a sharp division between these two groups and that at the round table a common understanding could be reached that would benefit both. It was at these discussions that Maurin would reveal his plan for society. He wished to discuss the ills of society, the ideal solution, and then discover the path that would lead the social order where it ought to go. Then both the scholar and the worker would be prepared to do his part in forming the new social order.

The next part of Maurin’s plan was to develop “Houses of Hospitality.” Drawing from the medieval practice of providing shelters for the wanderer, Maurin wanted to see houses where the more fortunate could help those who were in need. This met a variety of needs, not the least of which was to help alleviate the suffering of many from the Great Depression. But the House of Hospitality was also a place where the rich had the opportunity to fulfil Christ’s command to love and serve others. The houses were to remind society of the vision of sacrifice and service to those in need.

The final part of Maurin’s social program was to create farming communities, in an attempt to bring about a cultural agrarian economy. The machine was increasingly replacing workers in the factories of the cities, which meant that workers were being increasingly displaced. The solution was to return to the land and let it support them. A return to the land would stop the unemployment that Maurin felt was inherent within an industrial economy and would provide for a more just and stable society. Agronomic Universities of Farming, as Maurin called them, were places where the city dweller could go and receive training in farming and crafts. Here subsistence farming and crafts were practiced these would direct the forces of production toward need as opposed to profit. Values of cooperation and the spiritual dimension of man would be recovered here as well. This movement was to be a personalist movement in which cooperation and goodwill were emphasized as an essential dimension of community life. Maurin believed in his idea of returning to the land so strongly that he later equated returning to the land with returning to Christ.

LACW History photos

In preparation for an upcoming 35th anniversary issue of the Catholic Agitator I scanned in several old photographs, slides, and even film negatives. I thought many of them interesting, including this one of Mother Theresa during her 1976 visit to the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, and thought I would share. If any of you out there have photos to share please feel free to email them to me.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.lacatholicworker.org/wp/?p=52


hey just wanted to wish everyone at the LACW a very merry christmas! I hope that you all are doing well and not getting to cold in that freezing LA winter. just so you all no i have been bitching and moaning to everyone i talk to about how cold it is over here in the middle of fucking nowhere illinois and about how much i wished i was still in LA! lots of love see you all soon. Jason

Hang in there. Check your mail. W.E.K.

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Los Angeles Catholic Worker

Ammon Hennacy House of Hospitality
632 North Brittania St.
Los Angeles, CA 90033-1722
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Catholic Worker - History

Officially, the Catholic Worker Movement started on May Day, 1933, when the first issue of the Catholic Worker newspaper was distributed in New York City. Sold at a penny a copy, the publication promoting the cause of the poor and the worker and advocating agrarian and personalist ideals reached a circulation of 150,000 by 1936. The Catholic Worker Movement was more an &ldquoorganism&rdquo than an organization meaning that it lacked a rigid and fixed structure. The basis of the movement was Christian utopianism. The emphasis of the Worker was on Christian love for neighbor and community as well as prayer and the dignity of each person. It would be a counter balance to the materialism and economic determinism that industrialization had brought to modern society.

The Catholic Worker Movement was a compilation of many ideals, ideas and movements in the historical flow of economic and social history as well as the personal religious journeys of Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and Peter Maurin (1877-1949). The Worker developed from the response of these two individuals to the political and social circumstances of their times, countering what they saw through the eyes of their Christian faith.

In addition to their attraction to the ideologies of the Left, Day and Maurin shared Christian ideals such as the concept of hospitality, originated in the medieval Church. The concept of &ldquovoluntary&rdquo poverty came from St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). He insisted on poverty for his followers as a way to break away from the materialism of his own day. Other influences included the former Russian communist, Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948). He is known as the prophet of The Catholic Worker. Originally a Marxist, Berdyaev was exiled by the Bolsheviks to France in 1922. Berdyaev had become a Christian communitarian in 1950. Reacting against the hedonism and the lust for power that he had witnessed in Russia, Berdyaev found solace in the dynamism of the Christian Gospel. He spoke of the Mystery of Freedom, an active life founded on the Works of mercy and prayer, and it was here that he believed true liberty to be found. Christians would lead by example in the service of others. Further, Berdyaev was convinced that the bourgeois mindset was hampered in its response to God because it was set in the small arena of mediocrity.

Berdyaev was a friend of Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950). Mounier was also a communitarian but his ideas surrounded what is called &ldquopersonalism&rdquo. Personalism gave each person a dignity each had a unique vocation and because of that, they were special as a person created by God. Persons were never objects they were to be treated as unique creations as each soul was a beautiful gift. Mounier also opposed bourgeois individualism and the crushing machine of persons that industrial capitalism had become. Ethics and responsibility were central to Personalist philosophy.

When Peter Berdyaev met Dorothy Day, he had already perfected his three crowned approach to a new society, what he called his Green Revolution. This new society was profoundly personal, yet community based. His ideas were the result of what he called the Clarification of Thought. This Clarification of Thought occurred at the meetings held at Houses of Hospitality where ideas were freely exchanged. These Houses of Hospitality were places where anyone could come and freely obtain shelter, food and clothing. The last part of Peter&rsquos plan was a return to the land. G.K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc and Fr. Vincent McNabb, English Distributists, had advocated such solutions. Distributism was an economic understanding that mistrusted the materialism of both socialism and capitalism. According to the Distributists, industrialization was the root of all the problems. The Catholic Worker encouraged faith-based voluntary poverty and a return to the simplicity of the soil (this has also been called "Agrarian Romanticism&rdquo).

The Roman Catholic Church had called all the Church to social justice, in the encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, (1881), which demanded dignity for the worker as well as a living wage. It was a unique document for its time. A further encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), emphasized the protection of the helpless and stressed workers&rsquo rights. Economics had become separated from ethics, thus the isolation of the individual and lack of community to solve the problems that industrialization had brought. This is what Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement wanted to make clear in the newspaper they began publishing on May Day 1933. The principal idea of The Catholic Worker was that through a return to serving one&rsquos neighbor through the Corporal Works of Mercy and the humble acceptance of voluntary poverty, a renewal might begin in all society.

It was a truly unique entity. Although founded on Catholic principles, it was a lay organization, and not associated with the Catholic Church proper. It lacked a rigid structure and anyone could join. It was strictly voluntary. One could be married or unmarried. The lifestyle included meetings of clarification of thought, voluntary poverty and helping others in the community, as well as prayer. In the beginning, these were the simple aims however, as the Worker matured, it found itself involved with pacifism particularly during World War II. The issue of pacifism deeply divided the members of the Worker. In addition to pacifism, the Worker became involved with racial issues and civil rights.

The Catholic Worker Movement&rsquos care for the dignity of all humans and the sharing lifestyle and prayer attracts many members. The roots of the Worker spring from a Christian attempt to deal with the social issues and problems of the modern world, and are a composite of the many ideas and idealism that Christian thinkers have tried to make the Gospel message alive in such complex times as our own. The movement had a great influence on the formation of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, The Catholic Peace Movement and Pax Christi.

House work: Catholic Worker houses of today

Catholic Worker member Liz La Plante and I started our conversation alone in the spacious front room of the Dorothy Day House in Portland, Oregon beneath a picture of Mother Teresa. Within minutes, community member Chani Geigle-Teller joined us. A cat padded in and climbed into La Plante&rsquos lap as she began to tell her personal history. Just as La Plante said, &ldquoI wanted to do full-time service work,&rdquo two women poked their heads into the room. She invited them in, introducing them as houseguests. A parish volunteer who had been cooking in the kitchen sauntered in. A knock at the back door brought in two visitors, long-time supporters of the Dorothy Day House.

La Plante finished her story by saying, &ldquoThe blessings are the personal relationships in the house.&rdquo More friends appeared at the front door. As I listened to the chatter in the room, I was reminded of co-founder Dorothy Day&rsquos words about how the Catholic Worker movement developed. She writes in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, &ldquoWe were just sitting there talking&thinsp.&thinsp.&thinsp.&rdquo

Within a few minutes, the tranquil room in Portland had filled with people, cats, and the scent of something simmering on the stove.

Day continues, &ldquoWe have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.&rdquo Her words rang true as our group&mdashguests, community members, and visitors&mdashmoved to the dining room to share salad and chili.

Today the 200 or so Catholic Worker communities scattered around the United States and other countries are grounded in the belief that every human has God-given dignity, just as co-founders Day and Peter Maurin espoused. According to Jim Allaire, webmaster for catholicworker.org, these houses are &ldquobeacons of hope in this time of powerlessness.&rdquo The movement is significant to the church today, says Allaire, because Catholic Worker communities help &ldquokeep an eye on injustice, the poor, and immigration issues.&rdquo

Catholic Worker houses also educate young activists on nonviolence. Tom Hastings of Whitefeather Peace Community in Portland, Oregon speaks of the need to maintain Day&rsquos legacy, because often the vision of an innovative leader dies out. &ldquoUntil nonviolence becomes a social norm,&rdquo Hastings says, &ldquothe Catholic Worker vision is pertinent in today&rsquos conversation.&rdquo He believes many young activists today base their work on anger rather than nonviolence. Older activists need to hand on a robust, workable model of nonviolence.

Community center

At the heart of the Catholic Worker is a concept known as personalism. Father Bill Bichsel of Guadalupe House in Tacoma, Washington describes personalism as responding to God&rsquos active work within you by taking responsibility for what needs to happen, including standing by those in the margins and against those things that cause violence in the world. It is sharing the difficult as well as joyful parts of community.

For several years Guadalupe House helped maintain Bethlehem Farm, a Catholic Worker farm where my husband, children, and I lived for three years in the early 1990s. One of our guests, Frank, showed up once a month or so in a beat-up pickup and stayed only a few days. Sometimes Frank had part-time jobs sometimes he was on a bender. The farm offered respite for him, and he spent hours on the front porch of our old farmhouse, smoking and drinking coffee.

My husband set aside the farm work and house repairs that needed to be done and sat with him. They talked politics, religion, Frank&rsquos life story. They teased our children and watched the rain fall on the fields. Relationship is paramount in Catholic Worker communities.

Personalism goes hand in hand with community, another essential element of the movement. Usually in a Catholic Worker house, members and guests live together. &ldquoWe become a part of people, and they become a part of us,&rdquo Bichsel says. At Guadalupe House guests are invited through a screening process involving three interviews. Both community members and guests share in household chores.

At the Portland house physical, emotional, and social safety is a priority for the two members and six guests who live there. The house residents meet once a month to discuss issues that arise from living together. Yet the difficulties of community and personalism are the seedbed for rewards.

La Plante and Geigle-Teller have seen their guests transition into housing or find the services they need, and often these guests remain friends with the community, stopping by to visit after moving out.

Kristen, a slender, middle-aged guest in the Dorothy Day House, had left a situation of domestic violence many months before and had been living in various shelters. Once she slept in her storage unit for two nights. A social worker connected her with the Dorothy Day House, where she waited for housing. While there she was finally able to build trust in people thanks to the Catholic Worker, which she described as &ldquoa family situation.&rdquo

Another core principle of the Catholic Worker movement is nonviolence, both in personal relationships and on a societal level. Catholic Workers seek to end systemic violence. &ldquoPeace and justice can only be won through peaceable means,&rdquo says Tom Hastings. Whitefeather Peace Community&rsquos main work is organizing nonviolent resistance to war, injustice, and militarism.

Mass action

Catholic Workers share reading, dialogue, and liturgy both in the houses and with the wider neighborhood or parish communities. Whitefeather Peace Community hosts Roundtables, a Catholic Worker tradition of a meal followed by discussion.

One wintry evening in Tacoma, Catholic Workers, house guests, people from the local community, and people from the street sat scattered on old sofas and folding chairs in the basement of Guadalupe House.

During the prayers of the faithful, I sat with my eyes closed, listening. I glanced up, however, when I heard a voice from the doorway. A man in a scruffy trench coat leaned against the doorframe a baseball cap pulled low hid his face. He spoke in a hesitant voice. &ldquoMy friend is sick he&rsquos in the hospital.&rdquo Long silence. &ldquoThat&rsquos all I wanted to say.&rdquo Bichsel filled in the &ldquowe pray to the Lord.&rdquo When I looked up again, the man was gone.

Laurel Dykstra, a community member at Guadalupe House for eight years, sees a connection between contemplation and action on a societal level. &ldquoOne of the most brilliant aspects of the Catholic Worker vision is the use of public liturgy. Often acts of public resistance are intentionally sacramental in design and nature,&rdquo she says.

Recently the members of Guadalupe House have been involved in a local housing issue. A hotel in the neighborhood is home to many low-income people, but developers want to turn it into a luxury hotel. Before each crucial vote by the city council, Catholic Workers and other neighbors gather for an ecumenical service in front of the hotel, drawing attention to this issue and offering support to the residents.

Role playing

Community members and short-term volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some communities are specifically Catholic, such as Casa Juan Diego in Houston, while others are more eclectic. All community members need to be committed to Catholic Worker values.

Most houses have volunteers who help out with special projects for a limited time, such as a building project. Guadalupe House often hosts high school or college groups for a few weeks. They contribute their time and learn about the realities of marginalized people. Community members often receive room, board, and a stipend, depending on the specific house. Many members have jobs to support themselves.

Most communities have a process members must go through to join the community, and many require time commitments. Couples with children can commit long term. In Houston Mark and Louise Zwick raised their children and grandchildren at Casa Juan Diego, although the families lived in separate housing.

La Plante and Geigle-Teller decided to join the Catholic Worker movement for different reasons. La Plante felt drawn to Day&rsquos model of hospitality. A trained chef especially interested in providing hospitality through her passion for cooking, she concentrates on the household while Geigle-Teller focuses on activism, helping to organize vigils, protests, and actions in Portland.

Look on the bright side

Catholic Workers live on the edges of society, and in doing so they confront many complications.

Each house or farm must find its own funding, which often creates stability issues. At press time, for example, the Dorothy Day House in Portland was planning to close in October 2011. As with most nonprofit service organizations, communities fight a constant battle for funds and supplies to carry out their mission. Some communities choose to follow Day&rsquos lead and eschew 501(c)3 nonprofit status because they believe their work is an act of conscience, and they wish to carry out their activities without government regulation. Others have decided to file for nonprofit status in order to increase their services.

Another complication is the difficulty of the work. Because community members are constantly confronted with the overwhelming needs of the poor, they must be vigilant against despair. Mark Zwick keeps from getting cynical by &ldquoreflecting on the lives of immigrants and how they beat all odds to get here.&rdquo

Most communities balance prayer and work as Day instructed. Day spoke of a revolution of the heart, saying, &ldquoFood for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.&rdquo La Plante, a practicing Catholic, says, &ldquoI couldn&rsquot do this without my faith. It is crucial.&rdquo

The health problems of the guests especially challenge her because she can often find no solutions to ongoing circumstances. &ldquoYou just have to keep going,&rdquo La Plante says.

Many houses contend with a high turnover rate of community members. Kyla Fiffon, a 22-year-old who is biking around the country visiting Catholic Worker communities, believes the problem is a result of the stressful work more than the temperament of the communities.

Another member points out that for people who want to join service communities, opportunities abound, some with good stipends and health insurance, which most Catholic Worker communities don&rsquot offer.

As in most human attempts at righting wrongs, the vision calls, but the implementation is inadequate. Dykstra believes questions of right livelihood and sustainability are under-addressed in Catholic Worker communities.

In her experience, &ldquothe [Catholic Worker] movement has dealt with poverty by proximity&mdashbeing near individuals and communities that are impoverished&mdashbut has failed to engage deeply with questions of economics at a personal and communal level.&rdquo When community members confront the breadth and depth of inequality in the world, questions boil to the surface but often go unanswered.

Energy, time, and funds are limited. Every house, according to Bichsel of Tacoma, has a tension between dedication to the works of mercy and the works of justice.

True value

Despite the difficulties, the movement thrives. The overall number of houses is growing, according to Allaire. And even when people leave the movement, a part of it stays with them. Allaire recalls Dorothy Day&rsquos fondness for the many Catholic Worker &ldquograduates,&rdquo people &ldquowho have had a permanent shift in values and bring their Catholic Worker experience into their work.&rdquo

Fiffon sees more young people interested in the movement, especially those who have discovered what some call &ldquothe new monastacism.&rdquo They are &ldquorooting themselves in Catholic Worker history&rdquo to learn from the model, she says.

Members of the Jeanie Wylie House, a resistance community in Detroit, reported on their blog that at a recent Midwest Catholic Worker gathering &ldquoit was impossible not to notice the abundance of youthful energy.&rdquo More than half the 200 participants were in their 20s. &ldquoAnd by the showing of young parents and babies, it appears to be for the long haul.&rdquo

The movement stays true to many of the tenets set down by Day and Maurin, but as time passes, priorities shift. Many houses now emphasize farming or gardening as integral to their mission. New social issues arise over the years. Resistance planning, according to the members of the Jeanie Wylie House, is focused not only on new weapons, such as the United States&rsquo use of drones in overseas conflicts, but also on the policies of agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto.

Immigration issues have come to the forefront as well. Casa Juan Diego in Houston specifically serves undocumented immigrants. The house provides many types of outreach, including English classes, medical services, and hospitality. The Zwicks recently published a book, Mercy Without Borders: The Catholic Worker and Immigration (Paulist Press), filled with the stories of immigrants who have passed through their doors in the last 30 years.

The Catholic Worker movement has traveled a bumpy road, but the vision of Day and Maurin continues today in houses and farms around the world. The words of Bichsel may sum up the aims of its many members and graduates: &ldquoI just want to be a sign of hope and continue to be faithful.&rdquo

Watch the video: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement (January 2022).