The Catholic Worker is an eight-page tabloid newspaper published seven times a year by the Catholic Worker community, located on the Lower East Side of New York City. First distributed at New York's Union Square on May 1, 1933, The Catholic Worker announced Catholic social teaching to the unemployed and poor, but it soon came to represent the movement spawned by its readership. As that movement spread, Catholic Worker houses in other cities started their own newspapers, consistent with the style and content of the original paper. Conflicts have arisen within the movement—for example, during World War II over pacifism— but the New York paper has retained preeminence among other Catholic Worker papers.
The shaping vision of The Catholic Worker newspaper came from the movement's cofounders, Peter Maurin (1877–1949) and Dorothy Day (1897–1980). Maurin believed that the cure to modern social ills is to be found in a return to Christ and the social teachings of the church, which meant establishing houses of hospitality for the poor, roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought, and agronomic universities where people would learn to live on the land. Maurin expounded his three-pronged program of social regeneration in "easy essays"—clever, laconic commentaries on the church and world that appeared in most issues of the paper. Day revered Maurin but brought a more concrete view of social problems to the paper, much in the manner of the leftist publications for which she had written in her youth. Her editorials and columns contained detailed accounts of strikes, evictions, life on the streets, and the day-today hardships of the poor, along with stories of how Christians, past and present, have alleviated such hardships through works of mercy. The combined visions of Maurin and Day marked the paper with a unique blend of traditional doctrine and piety and revolutionary economics and politics now known as "Catholic radicalism."
Day was the chief editor of The Catholic Worker, but she always recruited community members to help, several of whom emerged as effective editors and writers, such as Michael Harrington, Tom Cornell, and Jim Forest. The paper has published an array of prominent authors, including Jacques Maritain, Martin Buber, Maria Montessori, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Paul Hanly Furfey, Eileen Egan, Thomas Merton, and Daniel Berrigan. It has also regularly displayed the woodcuts of Fritz Eichenberg and Ade Bethune, whose images of gospel scenes and worker-saints vividly portray the ideals of the movement. It published articles and editorials decrying Nazi German anti-Semitism in the late thirties, condemning the atomic bomb one month after it was dropped, warning against U.S. involvement in Vietnam during the fifties, and supporting the civil rights movement early on and the United Farm Workers in 1973. The paper's editorial policy has remained consistent since Day's death, as can be seen in its condemnation of the Gulf War and its reports on the effects of the economic embargo against Iraq.
The paper's annual circulation increased dramatically in the early years: from 2,500 copies of the first issue to 20,000 copies in November 1933; 110,000 in May 1935, and 190,000 in May 1938. Circulation dropped sharply, but not below 50,000, during World War II, largely due to the paper's pacifist stance. Since 1950 it has fluctuated between 58,000 and 106,000, with the most recent records (December 1998) showing a subscription-copy production of 83,449 and a total run of 91,000. These figures are of limited usefulness because many copies are mailed in bulk to Catholic parishes and organizations, and the paper is often passed from one person to another. In any case, the numbers are a rough estimate, as is characteristic of such a far-flung, loosely organized movement. The price has been consistent from the start: a penny a copy, twenty-five cents per year. Originally set at a rate affordable to the poor, the price has also come to symbolize The Catholic Worker's stance against the capitalist profit-making system.
Cornell, Thomas C., Robert Ellsberg, and Jim Forest, eds. A Penny a Copy: Readingsfrom The Catholic Worker. 1995.
Klejment, Anne, and Alice Klejment. DorothyDay and"The Catholic Worker." 1986.
Roberts, Nancy L. Dorothy Dayand The Catholic Worker. 1984.
Michael J. Baxter, C.S.C.