Place of the Month

St. Joseph Hospitality House

In honor of Lower East Side History Month, we are pleased to highlight St. Joseph Hospitality House as our featured site for May. 
 
From her apartment in the Lower East Side, Dorothy Day (1897-1980) co-founded The Catholic Worker newspaper and two "houses of hospitality" in 1936. Five years later, thirty-two houses of hospitality in twenty-seven cities provided food, clothing, and fellowship to the urban poor. Day was an activist committed to social reform throughout her life - from radical journalism in her twenties to acts of civil disobedience committed while she was in her seventies. 
 
Today, St. Joseph and Maryhouse (55 E. 3rd Street) continue the long tradition of social activism for which the Lower East Side is renowned. 
 
St. Joseph House was established in 1967 by Day, an influential and provocative Catholic reformer, who purchased the property to create a storefront soup kitchen and a homeless shelter, as well as a space for publishing her popular monthly 
Catholic Worker newspaper.  Day, who died in 1980 and is currently under consideration for Catholic sainthood, was a Bohemian rabble-rouser who had a way with words. "We need to change the system," she wrote in 1956, "We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists of conspiring to teach to do, but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York."
 
The Catholic Worker is a social movement founded in 1932 -- the height of the Great Depression -- by Day, a journalist, and philosopher Peter Maurin. They hoped to encourage solidarity with the poor through works of non-violence, justice, and mercy as an alternative to both capitalism and communism. The movement also promoted social responsibility and labor reform. For Day, the Worker took the place of joining an existing religious order. However, she did personally follow the Counsels of Perfection, including poverty, in the sense of owning no personal property. We know from her autobiography and her essays that she lived in her own houses of hospitality side by side with the homeless, ate the same soup that she served them, and wore the same discarded clothes that she offered them.
 
Catholic Worker houses promote "reliance on community life as a source of development and support," while cultivating a space where the boundaries between worker and guest are blurred or altogether indistinguishable. In the early days, the Catholic Worker life revolved around houses of hospitality, working on the land, roundtable discussions and the "newspaper." Today there are over one hundred eighty-five Catholic Worker communities across the United States, Canada, and Europe.