No two Catholic Worker communities are alike. Dozens of communities, dozens of interpretations of how the vision of hospitality — and in many cases witnessing through resistance to injustice — are carried out.
On May 1, May Day, which celebrates the contributions of labor in society, the Catholic Worker Movement turned 75. Many communities are celebrating the anniversary. Some are having potlucks and reunions; others simply continue to engage in the corporal works of mercy with no fanfare.
The fact that the Catholic Worker has survived — even flourished — over the years speaks well of the vision of Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and Peter Maurin (1877-1949), the movement’s co-founders. It’s interesting to see that nearly 28 years after Day’s death, more Catholic Worker houses of hospitality and communities exist than did when Day was living out her vision of how to follow the Gospel at Maryhouse in New York City.
The Denver Catholic Worker House, profiled in this week’s issue of the Denver Catholic Register is one place where community flourishes and homeless people can find a place to stay, get a meal and clean up, no questions asked. Loretto Sister Ann Koop has lived at the house since it opened 30 years ago.
“It’s a house, not a shelter or an agency,” Sister Anna told writer John Gleason. “It’s a place where people share space with others in need. When you see thousands of people on the street and look at this house with only nine bedrooms, you think it’s nothing more than a ripple on the lake. But it’s proven to be a big contribution to people’s lives that have lived and worked here.”
Her statement epitomizes the philosophy of the Catholic Worker. It’s what makes the Catholic Worker much different than government-run agencies and highly structured shelters. Catholic Workers seek to create community with the lost and forgotten, much as Christ did when he walked from town to town 2,000 years ago.
Not every Catholic Worker community is perfect. Certainly few are tidy and neat. Never does anything run like clockwork. And it shouldn’t. The movement deals with people and their imperfections. The idea is to live out the Gospel as closely as possible and to see Christ in others. Nothing more. And that’s dirty work.