Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society

By Paul A. Cimbala; Randall M. Miller | Go to book overview

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement

ANNE KLEJMENT

"We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us," explained Dorothy Day about the origins of the Catholic Worker movement, which was dedicated to caring for the poor and promoting nonviolent revolution. 1 Day's self-deprecating wit highlighted the role of ordinary people as agents of social change. By doing his or her small part, each person hastened the day of revolution. A traditional Catholic, devout and loyal to church authority, Day challenged the social and political orthodoxies of several generations of social activists, including New Dealers, Old Leftists, the New Left, charity volunteers, credentialed experts, and welfare bureaucrats.

The Catholic Worker movement began in 1933 with a monthly paper, the Catholic Worker, edited and published by Day, a Catholic journalist with ties to Greenwich Village radicals, anarchists, and Communists. Next came hospices for the homeless, begun on the initiative of a few enterprising people, guests and volunteers alike, who shared a pot of coffee, a kettle of soup, a few donated beds, and, all too often, vermin. Then came the farming communes, where the urban unemployed could adopt a self-sufficient and morally healthy way of life, independent of bosses, plutocrats, and unstable market forces.

The paper, the unique experience of community life, and informal programs on Catholic social thought educated people from all walks of life about the need for Gospel-based social justice and nonviolent revolution. In all of these endeavors, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement connected traditional Catholic spirituality (the mass, sacraments, prayer, fasting, works of mercy) to American radicalism. By taking the Gospel seriously, by loving even enemies, the Catholic Workers' revolution of the heart aimed to change society from the bottom up.

A winding path led Dorothy Day to Catholic social radicalism and nonviolent

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