The Catholic Worker Movement


The Bloomington Christian Radical Catholic Worker is part of a network of communities, a movement we call the Catholic Worker Movement, which is itself part of the Jesus Movement.

We follow this guy:








Or, as we often think of him:


When we say we are “Catholic Workers,” we mean to say that our highest aspiration is to follow the teachings of Jesus, especially his Sermon on the Mount.

Yet we don’t call ourselves “Sermonistas,” or “Mountites,” we call ourselves “Catholic Workers.”  Which is even more interesting, because (as of 2016) none of the full members of the Bloomington Catholic Worker are Roman Catholic.  So why the name?  We use the name in large part because of these cats: Dorothy Day & Peter Maurin.

peter and dorothy

When Pope Francis spoke before the United States Congress in 2015, he named four people as heroes of the American experience: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.


And Sister Dorothy has certainly captured our imaginations.  As a young woman, Dorothy Day (b. 1897) was a left-wing radical, convinced that the injustices of modernity demanded revolutionary change.  Day embraced Marxist critiques of capitalist industrialism, wrote for communist newspapers, hung out with New York bohemians like Eugene O’Neill, got arrested as a suffragette…


… that old thing.  But then, when she got herself pregnant, a strange thing happened: Dorothy found religion.  Day still felt compelled to work for social justice, to the plight of the poor, to a revolution of values; but now had to reconcile this revolutionary spirit with her newfound devotion to Roman Catholicism.  That became easier when she met a wandering French vagabond named Peter Maurin.


Peter Maurin was a student of monasticism, particularly Irish monasticism.  Peter also shared a lover with St Francis of Assisi: Lady Poverty.  Peter Maurin, in his copious reading, realized that the lives of the saints were downright seditious; that the tradition of the Church posed a revolutionary counter-tradition to the norms and values of the modern Western nation-state.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin got together, talked about ideas, and decided to start a newspaper.  It was to be a propaganda newspaper, a paper that would target the same disgruntled and impoverished people who were being drawn to communism.  The paper would teach them that Jesus, not Marx, was the real revolutionary.  The paper would interpret the crises of current events through the teaching of the Catholic Church.  The paper debuted on May Day 1933 and was called The Catholic Worker.


The Catholic Worker newspaper proclaimed ideas from the social teaching of the Church that had been forgotten (or ignored); ideas that profoundly challenge the virtues of consumerist American culture.  Among the topics of the Catholic Worker were the ideal of voluntary poverty, the condemnation of usury, and political decentralization along the principle of subsidiarity.  But one of the core and most famous ideas of the Catholic Worker was the prioritization of The Works of Mercy.


The Works of Mercy come from the Twenty-Fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, the only place in the Bible where Jesus lays down the criteria (or criterion) of the Final Judgment.  

The Catholic Worker Movement does not view the Works of Mercy as mere charity, as a “nice thing to do;” rather, the Catholic Worker views the performance of the Works of Mercy as a revolutionary act – our way of getting with God’s program to create a new society; a new society within the shell of the old.  In both spiritual and material ways, performing a Work of Mercy (e.g., offering hospitality to the homeless at a personal sacrifice) is a more profound and effective revolutionary and socially transformative act than other more traditional forms of political transformation (e.g., throwing a Molotov cocktail; or voting).


One cannot perform the Works of Mercy and serve the poor without asking why they are poor, and without working to address the unjust systems that lead to large gulfs of meaningless depravity and poverty.  Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker reminded their readers both of Jesus’ call to be nonviolent, love our enemies, and combat evil with good; and also the incompatibility of those teachings with modern warfare.  The Catholic Worker newspaper called on Christians to speak out against social injustice, modern war, environmental injustice, and those triplets of racism, materialism and militarism.  (Pope Francis recently gave us a new nomenclature of modern-day vices when he named the five “myths of modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset: individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, and the unregulated market.”)

Dorothy Day’s insistence on speaking up against war and injustice got her in a bit of trouble now and then, and nonviolent conscientious direct action against war and injustice has been a part of Catholic Worker life ever since.


Now then.  If you are trying to do the Works of Mercy while embracing voluntary poverty, risking resistance to the empire while embracing the simplicity of the gospel… it helps to share this life with other people.  The Catholic Worker Movement, then, is not a newspaper, but is a collection of communities; an assemblage of people trying to live together and share things (like the early church in the book of Acts).  The Catholic Worker Movement is a crew of disciples trying together to uncover a decent life of integrity.  The cruel modern world often makes people extremely alienated and isolated, even in the midst of crowds.  Dorothy Day called this the “Long Loneliness,” a loneliness that can only be cured by “love and that love comes with community.”


Even though Peter Maurin died in 1949 and Dorothy Day died in 1980, these communities of voluntary poverty, cooperation, prayer, peacemaking and hospitality are still going.  In fact, they’re thriving.  

They don’t all look like Dorothy’s place in New York, however.  Catholic Workers today might look something like this:


or like this:


or like this:


or this:


or like this:



or this:


or even like this:


or that:


or this here:


…or like any neighborhood, hamlet or corner where people invite the Spirit of God to lead and challenge them to grow in sharing life, building the Mystical Body of Christ, and caring for each other.

There’s lots of ways to learn more about the Catholic Worker.  

Friends of the Winona MN Catholic Worker keep up the website

The New York Catholic Worker newspaper each year prints these Aims and Means  

Catholic Worker artist Chuck Trapkus put together this Catholic Worker Primer, which is still pretty good many years later.

The best way to learn more about the Catholic Worker, however, is to come visit the Bloomington Christian Radical Catholic Worker.

and get to know some of these folks: 


Bloomington Catholic Worker’s Ross and Sarah Lynne with former member, Matt and neighbor, Forrest.