A woman and a man

 A woman and a man  ING-019
12 May 2023

A woman, a man, and Jesus in the middle, standing in front of a cross, embracing them. She is a Latin-American farmer with a child. He is a Black worker. Made by artist Ade Bethune, this has been the masthead of the Catholic Worker since 1985, a perfect synthesis of a newspaper and movement that share the same name, amid poverty and the Gospel, work and community, listening and manual effort.

Other faces, other lives, but precisely a woman and a man on a journey are at the origin of the Catholic Worker movement, which in recent days celebrated 90 years. A woman and a man, Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and Peter Maurin (1877-1949).

Day and Maurin seem to have very little in common when, on 9 December 1932, they meet for the first time in the kitchen of her apartment in New York. The woman is overwrought with exhaustion, having just returned from Washington, D.C., where she covered the Hunger March for “Commonweal” and “America” magazines. After an eight-hour bus ride, all she wants to do is hug her daughter and sleep. Instead, she finds “a short, stocky man in his mid-fifties, as ragged and rugged as any of the marchers I had left”, a rambling stranger who looks like a homeless man from the Great Depression.

They are very different and disagree on everything. She is an American journalist, a convert, 36 years old, a citizen to the core, an academic, a single mother, who knows nothing about Catholic tradition but knows the world of communications perfectly. He is a French peasant philosopher, much older, born into a Catholic family. He had spent the previous seven years looking for a student capable of understanding his ideas and, thinking he has finally found one, he will not quit on her.

Different in every way, there is something that binds Day and Maurin together: the desire to show that the Catholic Church’s social teaching is directed at the daily lives of the destitute, the marginalized of the world. Thus, their mission becomes letting people in need know that “there are [people] of God who are working not only for their spiritual, but for their material welfare”. Committed to a new social order which recognizes the dignity and sacredness of individuals, the Catholic Worker listens to people’s needs, to the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, all those who inhabit the wonderful (and misunderstood) text of the Beatitudes. Nothing can be learned by thinking there is one solution for everything, the Catholic Worker has been telling us for 90 years. One learns and grows in love only by encountering others, by sharing with others.

It is 1935 when Day asks Bethune to draw a new masthead for the newspaper to replace the previous one (because she finds it meaningless and because someone rightly complained: You talk so much about racism but you only draw white workers?). The new design makes its debut on the front cover in May that year. To the right and left of Jesus are two workers, one black and one white, holding hands. Jesus embraces both of them. The latest masthead, which is the one we see today, is drawn five years after Day’s death. On the left, we see a Latin-American mother. Because a movement, and the history of the Catholic Worker shows it, makes sense only if it is capable of rooting the Gospel in the ever-changing present. And so, this new drawing has been adorning the newspaper for nearly 40 years. A woman and a man on a journey, with Jesus, in the modern world. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.

Giulia Galeotti