In December 1932, Dorothy Day, a radical journalist, met Peter Maurin, a Franciscan monk. The couple decided to establish the Catholic Worker, a newspaper that would be able to publicize Catholic social teaching. Day became editor and the first edition appeared on 1st May, 1933. The newspaper criticised the economic system and supported organisation such as trade unions that were attempting to create a more equal society. It also argued that the Catholic Church should be a pacifist organization. Day and Maurin believed the nonviolent way of life was at the heart of the Gospel.
The Catholic Worker became a vehicle for creating a national movement. By 1936 there were 33 Catholic Worker Houses spread out across the country. These were charitable, self-help communities for people suffering the effects of the Depression. Today there are 130 of these houses in 32 states and eight foreign countries.
The Catholic Worker encountered problems during the Spanish Civil War. Most Catholics in the United States supported the fascists and saw Franco as the defender of the Catholic faith. As pacifists, Day and Maurin refused to support either side. As a result the newspaper lost two-thirds of its readers.
Even during the Second World War, Day maintained her pacifism. This was an unpopular stance to take and over the first few months of the war, fifteen Catholic Worker Houses were forced to close as volunteer workers withdrew their support from the organization.
Dorothy Day was publisher, editor and chief writer, of the Catholic Worker until her death in 1980. Since then the Catholic Worker movement has had no central leader. However the movement continues to grow and by 1995 there were 131 Catholic Worker Houses in the United States. The Catholic Worker has a circulation of about 100,000.
There are two billion people in the world and if we believed all we read in the paper everyone must line up on the side of Communism or Americanism, Catholicism, Capitalism, which the most Catholic newspapers would have us believe are synonymous. Of course, there are bad Americans, bad Catholics and bad capitalists, but still, they say, you can't print such holy pictures as you have in this Christmas issue in Russia, and you can't oppose war and the draft and taxes, as you do, without being thrown into concentration camps, if you are in Russia or a satellite country.
In our eulogies of poverty which we have printed again and again in The Catholic Worker, one of which is running in this issue of the paper, we write with the recognition that we stand as Americans, representing in the eyes of the world the richest nation on earth. What does it matter that we live with the poor, with those of the skid rows, and that those in our other houses throughout the country are living with poverty which is so great a scandal in a land of plenty. We know that we can never attain to the poverty of the destitute around us. We awake with it in our ears in the morning, listening to the bread line forming under our window, and we see it lined up even on such a day as the gale of last Saturday when glass and tin and bricks were flying down the street. The only way we can make up for it is by giving of our time, our strength, our cheerfulness, our loving kindness, our gentleness to all.