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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

The first segment of this essay traces the Catholic Worker movement from its beginnings, discussing the lives of its two founders. Rooted in its goals of social justice and social reform, the movement was composed of an intentional community founded by French peasant Peter Maurin and Catholic convert journalist Dorothy Day. Coming from starkly different backgrounds, the two crossed paths and published a newspaper, The Catholic Worker. This newly founded intentional community operated to love and serve the poor, believing that this was at the heart of the Christian message. Not only did they do so by helping to provide for the basic needs of the poor, but also by calling into question systems that created and perpetuated injustice and inequity. The essay discusses the importance of personalism within the Catholic Worker Movement, explaining that this philosophy believed in the “dignity and respect of each human person.” Newman notes that this belief is inseparable from the Catholic Church, thoroughly rooted in this religious tradition. Yet, Newman also draws the reader’s attention to the idea that the Catholic Worker “expresses its faith and ties to the Church in a way that is seen as countercultural and even radical.” Rather than looking to directly critique the Church and other institutions, Day and Maurin saw their work as having the power to change individual hearts, minds, and ways of life, believing that these changes could revitalize the Church and society from the inside out. In addition to the importance of personalism and justice, Newman cites hospitality as another key objective in the movement. For those involved with the Catholic Worker, hospitality functioned as a foundation of resistance and as a form of resistance itself, for radical hospitality counters exclusion with welcoming acceptance. These principles of service and hospitality bled into the Catholic Worker Movement, making the church a “kitchen, a clinic, a school, a community, and a home.” Newman discusses the way that this movement not only expanded to Catholic Worker houses all over the country, but also transcending denominations in inspiring Protestant efforts such as the Open Door Community of Atlanta, Georgia. Thus, Newman explains how personalist ideals rooted in hospitality have great power, able to shed light on social justice issues to a complacent Church and society at large.

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