The Catholic Worker: 75 Years Old

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Catholic Worker movement in the United States. Here in Philadelphia the movement has grown through many steps. In the early seventies there was a Catholic Worker House and the names associated with it were Charley Butterworth and Helen Adler. Reverend John McNamee, now Pastor Emeritus at St. Malachy Church, was inspired by reading the Catholic Worker newsletter while he was a seminarian at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. When he became pastor at St. Malachy, he saw there was a need for another Catholic Worker House and he did two things. He arranged for the purchase of a house at 430 W. Jefferson Street; Martha Baltzell and Joseph Bradley signed the papers. Then he recruited a volunteer, Patty Bums, from the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. This Philadelphia house is still functioning and is presently run by Karen Lentz. It is named the Sister Peter Claver House after the Trinitarian nun who worked with the poor in North Philadelphia and was a dose friend of Dorothy Day. Several years later, Mary Beth Appel and Johanna Berrigan founded the House of Grace Catholic Worker House and, with the support of Don Remmey, the Catholic Worker Free Medical Clinic in Kensington.

Seventy-five years of the Catholic Worker─that is a long time for something so haphazard and so minimally structured. According to Dorothy Day, “In general, every house has a resemblance to a large and disorderly, but loving family.”

Descriptions of activities in the Philadelphia Catholic Worker houses appear in the May issue of The Catholic Worker. We include them so that our readers can support these houses and have the opportunity to help those in need.

Sr. Peter Claver House, 430 W. Jefferson Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122, 215-232-7823

Two houses of hospitality: Sr. Peter Claver House and St. Benedict’s House; food and clothing distribution; sandwiches at the door; after-school program; weekly liturgy and potluck dinner; roundtable discussions; resistance work.

House of Grace Catholic Worker, 1826 E. Lehigh Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19125,

Newsletter: Gift of Grace. Hospitality at Kassie Temple House; free clinic with free health care and dental care for homeless and indigent people; community garden; resistance work; liturgies and Bible studies; and a health clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The Catholic Worker newspaper preceded the houses of hospitality, and the first copy of the Catholic Worker newspaper was distributed on May 1, 1933 in Union Square in New York City. For a copy or a subscription write to: The Catholic Worker, 36 East First Street, New York, New York 10003

Notes about Dorothy Day

A key element of the Catholic Worker movement’s charism has been a quality that Dorothy Day possessed in abundance-- a gift not only to see what is wrong in the world, but to see beauty and discern signs of hope. She was profoundly attentive to beauty and managed to find it in places where it was often overlooked, as in nature, in flowers blooming in a slum neighborhood, in the battered faces of people who had been thrown away by society. She saw news of the Resurrection in grass battling upward toward the sky between blocks of concrete. She saw everything in the light of the Resurrection

The absolute heart of the movement that Dorothy founded is an endeavor to witness to the Gospel message, with a particular emphasis on the works of mercy, and to make better known basic Christian social teachings.

Sr. Ann Boniface Doyle, MSBT and Phyllis Grady
Sr. Ann and Phyllis are both CPF Members

return to 8/08 CPF Newsletter