The Catholic Worker

Over the last year I've really fallen in love with Dorothy Day. I came to Day because of my continuing interests, personal and professional, with expressions of Christian hospitality and you can't get very far into this without engaging with the Catholic Worker's houses of hospitality.

During our family vacation last month I was reading Day's book Loaves and Fishes, her account of the beginnings and history of the Catholic Worker movement. And during our vacation we were going to be visiting Jana's sister in New York City where Day started the Catholic Worker and opened the first house of hospitality.

For those who do not know, the Catholic Worker is both a movement and a paper. Centered mainly around houses of hospitality, the Catholic Worker movement is comprised of communities who, are, in the words of the Worker website:

...committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.
Founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933, the early focus of the Catholic Worker was on poverty and practicing the works of mercy. The community later became known for its pacifism. These remain the defining features of the movement. The first Catholic Workers around Day and Maurin shared a common life and practiced voluntary poverty. Many Catholic Worker communities continue this tradition. Many decades before a movement called "new monasticism" there was the Catholic Worker.

But The Catholic Worker is also a paper. Day was a journalist. So the first thing she and Maurin did was to publish a paper. Working with a shoestring budget they published their first paper on May 1, 1933, selling copies in Union Square (the picture above is of people reading the paper in Union Square in 1937).

The paper cost 1¢. And to this day The Catholic Worker costs 1¢.

Of course, having become a fan of Day I wanted to subscribe to The Catholic Worker. But being a very low tech operation--voluntary poverty and all that--you can't sign up for a subscription online or shoot them an email. You have to send a letter through the post. Yeah, like write a letter, get an envelope and buy a stamp. That kind of post.

But since I was going to be in New York this summer I figured I'd just drop in.

The family and I were in Chinatown. St. Joseph House--the location of The Catholic Worker--was about a mile away. Day's first house of hospitality had moved around the Bowery a few times, but it eventually settled at St. Joseph House were it remains to this day. Leaving the family to do some shopping along Canal St. I walked to St. Joseph House to see about getting on the mailing list.

The house was busy when I arrived. The workers living there were preparing food in the kitchen and they were also in the middle of giving out some clothing. You know, works of mercy.

I've forgotten the name of gentleman who welcomed me, but we chatted while he supervised those who were going in and out of the clothing room. He was pretty busy so I didn't stay long. I just told him I was fan of Day and wanted to make a donation and to get on the mailing list. He could identity with being a fan. He told me he'd met Day as a young man in that very house and that, as he described it, she blew him away. Changed his life forever. He's been a part of the Catholic Worker movement ever since.

After our brief chat I headed out, needing to catch back up with my family. Outside I turned and took a picture of the hospitality house started by Dorothy Day. Still practicing the works of mercy here in the year 2012.
St. Joseph House--Founded by Dorothy Day--And Still Practicing the Works of Mercy

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16 thoughts on “The Catholic Worker”

  1. I'd love to make that visit one day too. I stumbled across a movie about Day about 15 years ago. While nowhere near as sacrificial as Day and most CW's, as a result of her influence we now live in a small inner city neighbourhood sharing life & mission with the poor, the addicted, mentally ill and the REALLY screwed up one (me).

  2. That's what it's all about. Blessings on you and your neighborhood.

    For the interested, the movie is Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story. Moria Kelly plays Dorothy Day and Martin Sheen plays Peter Maurin.

  3. Sorry for the off-topic: The new comment format is causing some issues for me and others (ie. no longer supports older versions of Internet Explorer, and can't sign in through Yahoo). When my son takes his computer back to school, I'll be locked out too.

  4. I noticed the change. I didn't do it. Looks like Disqus upgraded itself. Not sure what to do about that.

    Anyone familiar with Disqus and what's going on and any advice for me or Patricia?

  5. This one's off-topic too:
    I want to point you guys in the direction of this "Slow Church" movement/concept. I've been following for some time now and I think they've got some great things to say and are an important voice today.
    This is a just a small example of the many thought-provoking meditations that they provide. Enjoy, friends!

  6. Did some research on the Disqus site and it looks like Yahoo and OpenID are no longer supported for logins, and no word about adding them back. They've added a few fixes a couple of months ago for IE 6&7, but since the new Disqus 2012 is an iFrame gadget now, it likely won't ever work right with the older versions of IE, since they'll be putting more resources into making it work better with newer versions of IE . Some Firefox users may have trouble seeing their comments show up without refreshing the page, and may wind up with some double posts as a result. The best recommendation I have would be to use Chrome as a browser and sign up a Disqus account. Sorry I can't be of any more help.

  7. Thanks Eric. I got Chrome, but Norton and Chrome REALLY don't like each other, and it kept crashing to blue screen. Spent a couple hours with Norton Tech Support doing the uninstall/reinstall dance. I can't update to IE 9 because my system won't support it. So if I'm gone in a few days, please know that I've really enjoyed the conversations here, and the company I've gotten to know. And I'll be reading. And when my son comes home, I'll pop in and say hello.

  8. Very beautiful! I wish all of humanity had that same heart, a heart of mercy, compassion and hospitality. What a "heavenly" world we would live in!

  9. Like yourself, I also would like to share something/someone who has inspired me lately...Jane Addams and her work in Chicago, The Hull House. Very amazing and inspiring work!
    I am not fully against Christianity or fully in support of Christianity, but I do tend to be somewhat negative towards a majority of experiences I have had with the modern American expression of the religion of Christianity, or at least a Christian friend tells me often. I do not wish to be negative towards the religion, beliefs or followers, but sometimes the things I hear, read or see just ignite an anger I can't seem to shake.
    The thing that I have found to help me with these negative feelings and thoughts towards Christianity, are people like Dorothy Day or Jane Addams. Christians who were less concerned with the aspects I find repulsive and more concerned with the aspects that I love :)
    It is encouraging to know people can read a Bible and be a part of Christianity and not become self-righteous & judgmental. I will always be extremely confused as to how someone can read about the person of Jesus and not develop a heart of compassion and love? Why don't all people who read about him develop this passion to help people and love people?

    Anyway I will stop... Sorry Richard & readers I feel like I vented completely off topic and ruined the beautiful spirit of the Catholic Worker :)

    Thanks for sharing Richard, this was very inspiring, I had never heard of her before!

  10. No worries. I struggle with the same things. I have no polling data on this, but I think the majority of Christians, even the large majority, are pretty decent folk. What happens is that the uglier examples tend to be the ones who get the most attention. Regardless, it's all about taking people as they are, as individuals. Christian or non-Christian.

  11. Richard,

    i've been trying to collect sources for dissertation, and i don't have anything on Day yet. One thing i haven't been able to pin down: was Day's pacifism an ethical/moral commitment? Or simply strategic in nature? Do you know of a source (book/article) that presents the philosophy behind her pacifism?


  12. Hi Guy,
    It was ethical. Rooted in the Sermon on the Mount. The CW lost a lot of support for its pacifistic stance during WW2 but fared better, publicity-wise during Vietnam. Day and other NYC CWs were also annually arrested for refusing to participate in the NYC nuclear air raid drills as their protest to the bomb and the Cold War arms race.

    Most of Day's pacifistic writings were published in the pages of The Catholic Worker. I don't know of a book where these essays are collected. Bits and peices are in Dorothy Day: Selected Writings ( but not much extended treatment.

  13. Richard,

    I'm a Harding graduate who now (probably much to the chagrin of my alma mater) lives and works with a house of hospitality in inner-city Atlanta. It's called the Open Door Community, and is considered a Protestant Catholic Worker house. It's been here 30 years, and already I've been so blessed to be a part of this work. I haven't read any of Day's work yet, but she's certainly on my list - she was an incredible woman. I've also been following your blog for a while now, and have been trying to figure out a way to get you up here to Atlanta for a visit - maybe your fondness for Day and the CW is an in? :-P

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