“The way to influence the man on the street is to meet the man on the street,” claimed Peter Maurin (1877-1949), co-founder with Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement. He was as good as his word, working his way around the USA and Canada from 1909 – digging ditches, quarrying stone, cutting timber, working in brickyards, coal mines and steel mills and sleeping in shelters – until 1932 in New York where he met Dorothy Day.
“First of all,” as Dorothy wrote later, “it was Peter who came into our lives and called us to work in the vineyard. He convinced us by his own talking that there was work to be done, that we each had vocations, callings. When people ask me how the Catholic Worker movement started and what it is, I tell them about Peter, and the way he lives, and the ideas he expresses. I talk about his personalist and communitarian philosophy.”
In fact, although French-born Peter certainly drew on many sources and his early experience as a Christian brother, much of his philosophy and practice bears the imprint of the Sillon to which he had belonged in the years of the Great Times roughly from 1902 to 1908. It seems that he gradually became disenchanted with the movement as a result of its growing political involvement after 1906.
Nevertheless, the whole orientation of the Catholic Worker towards the poor, to workers, for peace, its positive, confident outlook, its search for new ways going beyond capitalism and socialism, corresponds closely with the Sillon’s own orientation. So too do Catholic Worker methods reveal unmistakable traces of the Study Circles promoted by the Sillon.
Peter Maurin died on 15 May 1949, appropriately the 58th anniversary of the publication of Pope Leo XIII’s classic encyclical, Rerum Novarum.
Dorothy Day, Dorothy Day on Peter Maurin
Jim Forest, Peter Maurin, Co-Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement (Catholic Worker)
Mark and Louise Zwick, Peter Maurin, Saint and Scholar of the Catholic Church (Houston Catholic Worker)