The Catholic Worker Movement is a collection of autonomous communities of Catholics and their associates founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the United States in 1933. Its aim is to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ". One of its guiding principles is hospitality towards those on the margin of society, based on the principles of communitarianism and personalism. To this end, the movement claims over 240 local Catholic Worker communities providing social services. Each house has a different mission, going about the work of social justice in its own way, suited to its local region.
Catholic Worker houses are not official organs of the Catholic Church, and their activities, inspired by Day's example, may be more or less overtly religious in tone and inspiration depending on the particular institution. The movement campaigns for nonviolence and is active in opposing both war and the unequal global distribution of wealth. Dorothy Day also founded The Catholic Worker newspaper, still published by the two Catholic Worker houses in New York City, and sold for a penny a copy.
The Catholic Worker Movement began in the nineteenth century. Some pioneers are Adolph Kolping, St. John Bosco and Léon Harmel all more or less contemporaries who sought to respond to the needs of young workers in a rapidly industralizing Europe. At the end of the century Pope Leo XIII gave voice to the plight of workers and the problem of labour in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum which is the foundation of Catholic social teaching.
In the US, the Catholic Worker Movement started with the Catholic Worker newspaper, created by Dorothy Day to advance Catholic social teaching and stake out a neutral, Christian pacifist position in the war-torn 1930s. Day attempted to put her words from the Catholic Worker into action through "houses of hospitality" and then through a series of farms for people to live together on communes. The idea of voluntary poverty was advocated for those who volunteered to work at the houses of hospitality. Many people would come to the Catholic Workers for assistance, only to become Workers themselves. Initially, these houses of hospitality had little organization and no requirements for membership. As time passed, however, some basic rules and policies were established. Day appointed the directors of each of the houses, but tried to maintain autonomy in the actual running of the houses. Because of this policy, the houses varied in both size and character: in the 1930s, the St. Louis Workers served 3400 people a day while the Detroit Workers served around 600 a day.
The Catholic Worker newspaper spread the idea to other cities in the United States, as well as to Canada and the United Kingdom, through the reports printed by those who had experienced working in the houses of hospitality. More than 30 independent but affiliated communities had been founded by 1941. Between 1965 and 1980 an additional 76 communities were founded with 35 of these still in existence today, such as the "Hippie Kitchen" founded in the back of a van by two Catholic Workers on Skid Row, Los Angeles in the 1970s. Well over 200 communities exist today, including several in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden.
"Our rule is the works of mercy," said Dorothy Day. "It is the way of sacrifice, worship, a sense of reverence."
According to co-founder Peter Maurin, the following are the beliefs of the Catholic Worker:
The Catholic Worker considered itself a Christian anarchist movement. All authority came from God; and the state, having by choice distanced itself from Christian perfectionism, forfeited its ultimate authority over the citizen... Catholic Worker anarchism followed Christ as a model of nonviolent revolutionary behavior... He respected individual conscience. But he also preached a prophetic message, difficult for many of his contemporaries to embrace.
Families have had a variety of roles in the Catholic Worker movement. Because those donating funds to the houses of hospitality were primarily interested in helping the poor, the higher cost of maintaining a volunteer family (as opposed to maintaining an individual volunteer) conflicted with the wishes of those donating. Author Daniel McKanan has suggested that, for a variety of reasons, Dorothy Day's perspective on family involvement in the movement was controversial. Despite these elements of conflict, families have participated in the Catholic Worker movement through multiple avenues: some assist the houses of hospitality while others open up a "Christ room" in their homes for people in need. There are many other opportunities for family involvement in the Catholic Worker as well, with some families running their own houses of hospitality.
Subsidiarity and its value in promoting the philosophy of personalism was also key to undergirding perhaps the most distinctive element of the CW ideology, its Christian anarchism