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The Catholic Worker Movement

by David E. Walker

The Catholic Worker movement started when Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day teamed up to start a newspaper promulgating Catholic teaching on social justice during the Great Depression of the 1930's.1 This grew first into a soup line, then later into a house of hospitality in the slums of New York City, and then into a series of farms where people could live communally.2 The movement quickly spread to other cities in the United States and then to Canada and the United Kingdom. Today there are over 200 local Catholic Worker communities world wide that provide works of mercy to people in need. Each community is autonomous, going about their work in their own ways, suited to their local region.3

Guiding Principals

The aim of the Catholic Worker Movement is to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ."4

The works of mercy are the foundational cornerstone of the movement and are ennumerated as follows:

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

  • To Feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To house the homeless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.5

More information can be found on the Works of Mercy by clicking here.

Catholic Personalism and Communitarianism:

Peter Maurin structured the Works of Mercy around the philosophical principals of Catholic Personalism and Communitarianism.6 Catholic Personalism is the belief that the person is a good to which the only appropriate and adequate attitude is love. Personalism opposes the exploitation of the person as a means to an end. The maxim of Catholic personalism is this: Persons are not to be used, but to be loved and respected.7 Communitarianism is an ideology which emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. Communitarianism emphasizes the role that the community plays in defining and shaping individuals. Communitarian and Catholic personalist Peter Maurin viewed the communal lifestyle seen in early monasticism as the ideal for community living. In an early article of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day clarified the dogma of the Mystical Body of Christ as the basis for the Catholic Worker movement's communitarianism.8

Houses of Hospitality and Collective Farm Communities:

On the basis of the philosophies of Personalism and Communitarianism, Peter Maurin's and Dorothy Day's vision was to establish houses of hospitality and community farms where the works of mercy could be practiced, in an atmosphere where the Works of Mercy came more naturally. Grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person, their movement was committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, and the Works of Mercy as a way of life. It wasn't long before Dorothy and Peter were putting their beliefs into action, opening a 'house of hospitality' where people suffering from homelessness, hunger, and other injustices would always be welcome.9


1,3,4: Catholic Worker Movement. Wikipedia, .

2. Day, Dorothy, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist Dorothy Day. Harper & Row, 1952. Collins, Tamar 1981.

5: Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, Catholic Encyclopedia,

6: Catholic Worker Movement. Wikipedia,

7: Personalism. Wikipedia,

8: Communitarianism. Wikipedia,

9: About the Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker Movement: The Catholic Worker Movement Described in 120 Words. The Catholic Worker Movement,

© Mary House Catholic Worker of Austin, Inc. All rights reserved. Recommended citation information below:

Walker, David E., The Catholic Worker Movement. Mary House Catholic Worker of Austin, Inc.,