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Peter Maurin

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Peter Maurin
Maurin in front of one of the first Catholic Worker houses
Pierre Joseph Orestide Maurin

(1877-05-09)May 9, 1877
DiedMay 15, 1949(1949-05-15) (aged 72)
Resting placeMiddle Village, Queens County, New York, US
Other namesAristide Pierre Maurin
  • Social activist
  • educator
  • laborer
Known forCo-founding the Catholic Worker

Peter Maurin (French: [moʁɛ̃]; May 9, 1877 – May 15, 1949) was a French Catholic social activist, theologian, and De La Salle Brother who founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 with Dorothy Day.

Maurin expressed his philosophy through short pieces of verse that became known as Easy Essays.[1] Influenced by the contemporary work of G. K. Chesterton and Vincent McNabb,[2] he was one of the foremost promoters of the back-to-the-land movement and of Catholic distributism in the United States.[3] He was also influenced by Peter Kropotkin, an anarchist.[4][5]


He was born Pierre Joseph Orestide Maurin[6] into a poor farming family in the village of Oultet in the Languedoc region of southern France, where he was one of 24 children. After spending time in the De La Salle Brothers, Maurin served in the Sillon movement of Marc Sangnier until he became discouraged by the Sillonist shift from personalist action towards political action.[7] He briefly moved to Saskatchewan to try his hand at homesteading, but was discouraged both by the death of his partner in a hunting accident and by the harsh conditions and rugged individualism that characterized his years of residence in the region.[6][8][9] He then traveled throughout the American east for a few years, and eventually settled in New York.[10]

"Round-table Discussions, Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes--those were the three planks in Peter Maurin's platform. There are still Houses of Hospitality, each autonomous but inspired by Peter, each trying to follow Peter's principles. And there are farms, all different but all starting with the idea of the personalist and communitarian revolution. . . Peter was not disappointed in his life's work. He had given everything he had and he asked for nothing, least of all for success."

Dorothy Day on Peter Maurin, in her article commemorating the centenary of his birth [8]

For a ten-year period, Maurin was not a practicing Catholic "because I was not living as a Catholic should."[11]

In the mid-1920s, Maurin was working as a French tutor in the New York suburbs. It was at this time Maurin experienced a religious conversion,[12] inspired by the life of Francis of Assisi.[13] He ceased charging for his lessons and asked only that students give any sum they thought appropriate. This was likely prompted by reading about St. Francis, who viewed labor as a gift to the greater community, not a mode of self-promotion.[14] During this portion of his life, he began composing the poetry that would later be called his Easy Essays.[15]

Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker[edit]

"Peter Maurin first met Dorothy Day in December 1932."[16] She had just returned from Washington, D.C., where she had covered the Hunger March for Commonweal and America magazines.[17] At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1932, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Day had prayed for inspiration for her future work. She came back to her New York apartment to find Maurin awaiting her in the kitchen. "He had read some of her articles and had been told by George Schuster, editor of Commonweal, to look her up and exchange ideas with her."[16] The French models and literature Maurin brought to Day's attention are of particular interest.[18]

For four months after their first meeting, Maurin "indoctrinated" her, sharing ideas, synopses of books and articles, and analyzing all facets of daily life through the lens of his intellectual system.[19] He suggested she start a newspaper, since she was a trained journalist, to "bring the best of Catholic thought to the man in the street in the language of the man in the street".[20] Maurin initially proposed the name Catholic Radical for the paper that was distributed as the Catholic Worker beginning May 1, 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression.

His ideas served as the inspiration for the creation of "houses of hospitality" for the poor,[21] for the agrarian endeavors of the Catholic Worker farms, and the regular "roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought" that began taking place shortly after the publication of the first issue of The Catholic Worker[22] which is considered a Christian Anarchist publication.[23]

Maurin at times saw the paper as not quite radical enough, as it had an emphasis on political and union activity. Shortly after the paper's first print run in early May, 1933, he left New York for the boys' camp at Mt. Tremper, where he worked in exchange for living quarters. "[T]he paper, declaring its solidarity with labor and its intention of fighting social injustice, was not, by Maurin's standards, a personalist newspaper." Maurin believed the Catholic Worker should stress life in small agricultural communities.[24] As he liked to say, “there is no unemployment on the land.”[25]

Maurin lived in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he worked on the first Catholic Worker-owned farming commune, Maryfarm.[26] He also took part in the Catholic Worker picketing of the Mexican and German consulates during the 1930s.[27]

Maurin traveled extensively, lecturing at parishes, colleges, and meetings across the country, often in coordination with the speaking tours of Dorothy Day. He addressed venues as varied as Harvard students and small parishes, the Knights of Columbus and gatherings of bishops and priests.[28]

Later years[edit]

Catholic Radicalism: Phrased Essays For The Green Revolution, 1949

In 1944, Maurin began to lose his memory.[29] His condition deteriorated until he died at the Catholic Worker's Maryfarm near Newburgh, New York, on May 15, 1949, "the Feast of St. Dymphna, patroness of mental health, the anniversary also of St. John Baptiste de la Salle and of the Papal encyclicals Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno. ...Many remarked the strange convergence of anniversaries."[30] At the wake, many people were seen to touch their rosaries to his hands surreptitiously, indicating their belief in his sanctity.[31] The Staten Island Catholic Worker farm was named after Maurin following his death;[32] the Peter Maurin Farm currently operates in Marlboro, New York.

Intellectual system[edit]

Maurin's vision to transform the social order consisted of three main ideas:

  1. Establishing urban houses of hospitality to care for the destitute.
  2. Establishing rural farming communities to teach city dwellers agrarianism and encourage a movement back-to-the-land.
  3. Setting up roundtable discussions in community centres in order to clarify thought and initiate action.[33]

Maurin saw similarities between his approach and what he viewed was that of the Irish monks who evangelized medieval Europe.[34]

Intellectual inspirations[edit]

According to Dorothy Day, some of the books he had her read were the works of "Fr. Vincent McNabb and Eric Gill, Jacques Maritain, Leon Bloy, Charles Peguy of France, Don Sturzo of Italy, (Romano) Guardini of Germany, and (Nicholas) Berdyaev of Russia."[35] Another writer upon whom Maurin drew was Emmanuel Mounier.[36] Other titles included Catholicism and the Appeal to Reason by Leo Paul Ward, Humanity's Destiny by Denifle, Christian Life and Worship by Gerald Ellard, The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam, and The Servile State by Hilaire Belloc.[37]

The following books were recommended by Peter Maurin in reading lists appended to his essays.[38]

  1. Art in a Changing Civilization, Eric Gill
  2. Brotherhood Economics, Toyohiko Kagawa
  3. Charles V, D. B. Wyndham Lewis
  4. Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism, Amintore Fanfani
  5. The Church and the Land, Father Vincent McNabb, O.P.
  6. Discourse on Usury, Thomas Wilson
  7. Enquiries Into Religion and Culture, Christopher Dawson
  8. Fields, Factories and Workshops, Peter Kropotkin
  9. Fire on the Earth, Paul Hanly Furfey
  10. The Flight from the City, Ralph Borsodi
  11. The Franciscan Message to the World, Father Agostino Gemelli, F.M.
  12. Freedom in the Modern World, Jacques Maritain
  13. The Future of Bolshevism, Waldemar Gurian
  14. A Guildsman's Interpretation of History, Arthur Penty
  15. The Great Commandment of the Gospel, His Excellency A. G. Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the U. S.
  16. Ireland and the Foundation of Europe, Benedict Fitzpatrick
  17. I Take My Stand, by Twelve Southern Agrarians
  18. The Land of the Free, Herbert Agar
  19. Lord of the World, Robert Hugh Benson
  20. The Making of Europe, Christopher Dawson
  21. Man the Unknown, Dr. Alexis Carrel
  22. Nations Can Stay at Home, B. O. Wilcox
  23. Nazareth or Social Chaos, Father Vincent McNabb, O.P.
  24. Our Enemy, the State, Albert Jay Nock
  25. Outline of Sanity, G. K. Chesterton
  26. A Philosophy of Work, Étienne Borne
  27. Post-Industrialism, Arthur Penty
  28. Progress and Religion, Christopher Dawson
  29. Religion and the Modern State, Christopher Dawson
  30. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, R. H. Tawney
  31. La Revolution Personnaliste et Communautaire, Emmanuel Mounier
  32. Saint Francis of Assisi, G. K. Chesterton
  33. Social Principles of the Gospel, Alphonse Lugan
  34. Soviet Man Now, Helen Iswolsky
  35. Temporal Regime and Liberty, Jacques Maritain
  36. The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen
  37. Thomistic Doctrine of the Common Good, The, Seraphine Michel
  38. Things That Are Not Caesar's, Jacques Maritain
  39. Toward a Christian Sociology, Arthur Penty
  40. True Humanism, Jacques Maritain
  41. The Two Nations, Christopher Hollis
  42. The Unfinished Universe, T. S. Gregory
  43. The Valerian Persecution, Father Patrick Healy
  44. What Man Has Made of Man, Mortimer Adler
  45. Work and Leisure, Eric Gill


His contributions to the Catholic Worker Movement, while apparently often eclipsed in the collective memory of the movement by those of Dorothy Day,[39] remain foundational, as evidenced by Day's insistence in The Long Loneliness and elsewhere that she would never have begun the Catholic Worker without him. "Peter was a revelation to me," she said. "I do know this--that when people come into contact with Peter ... they change, they awaken, they begin to see, things become as new, they look at life in the light of the Gospels. They admit the truth he possesses and lives by, and though they themselves fail to go the whole way, their faces are turned at least towards the light."[40]

Maurin was played by Martin Sheen in Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story.[41]

In 2010 Mark and Louise Zwick suggested considering Peter Maurin for sainthood.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Day, Dorothy (1963). Loaves and Fishes: The inspiring story of the Catholic Worker Movement. Orbis Books. p. 5. A Knock at the Door
  2. ^ Maurin, Peter. Edited by Lincoln Rice. "The Forgotten Radical Peter Maurin." (Fordham University Press: New York) 2020. pp 287, 509
  3. ^ Zwick, Mark and Louise. "The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins." (Paulist Press: New York) 2005. p 17.
  4. ^ Maurin, Peter. Easy Essays. Catholic Worker Reprint Series. (WIPF & Stock: Eugene, Oregon) 2003. pp 4, 15.
  5. ^ Maurin, Peter. Edited by Lincoln Rice. "The Forgotten Radical Peter Maurin." (Fordham University Press: New York) 2020. pp 20, 510
  6. ^ a b Day, Dorothy (2004). Peter Maurin : apostle to the world. Sicius, Francis J. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. ISBN 978-1570755507. OCLC 55000886.
  7. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 52-69, 205.
  8. ^ a b "Day, Dorothy. "Peter Maurin, 1877-1977," The Catholic Worker, May 1977, 1,9". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
  9. ^ [1] Archived May 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Peter, Jim. "Peter Maurin". Biographical essay. Catholicworker.com. Archived from the original on May 14, 2008. Retrieved April 27, 2008.
  11. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 81-82.
  12. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 83.
  13. ^ Coy, Patrick G. (1988). A Revolution of the heart: essays on the Catholic worker. Temple University Press. pp. 19–21. ISBN 9780877225317. The influence of Francis of Assisi in Maurin's life was considerable.
  14. ^ Ellis, Marc H. Peter Maurin: Prophet in the Twentieth Century. New York: Paulist Press, 1981. p. 34-35
  15. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 84.
  16. ^ a b Sheehan 1959, p. 90.
  17. ^ Miller 1982, p. 224-226.
  18. ^ Atkins, Robert (2013-05-01). "Dorothy Day's social Catholicism: the formative French influences". International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church. 13 (2): 96–110. doi:10.1080/1474225X.2013.780400. ISSN 1474-225X. S2CID 143851912.
  19. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 91.
  20. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 91-93.
  21. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 99.
  22. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 97-98.
  23. ^ Klejment, Anne; Coy, Patrick (1988). A Revolution of the heart: essays on the Catholic worker. Temple University Press. pp. 293–294.
  24. ^ Miller 1982, p. 256-257.
  25. ^ Mark and Louise Zwick, "Why Not Canonize Peter Maurin, Co-Founder with Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement?". Cjd.org. July 2010. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  26. ^ Kane, Brian (Winter 2022). "Food, Health and Lessons from the Catholic Worker". Catholic Health Association of the United States. Retrieved 1 June 2024.
  27. ^ Miller 1982, p. 273-274.
  28. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 182-178.
  29. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 201.
  30. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 202.
  31. ^ Sheehan 1959, pp. 203–204. Such an action is consonant with the Catholic belief in the sacramentality of the world, that material objects and human persons in their physicality can be conduits for the power and presence of God. By touching their rosaries to him, the rosary would become a second-class relic
  32. ^ Miller 1982, p. 413-417.
  33. ^ Coy, Patrick G. (1988). A Revolution of the heart: essays on the Catholic worker. Temple University Press. pp. 16–23. Peter Maurin
  34. ^ Catholic Worker - Houston
  35. ^ Miller 1982, p. 234.
  36. ^ Dorothy Day (2004). Peter Maurin: Apostle to the World. p. 33."Roots of the Catholic Worker Movement: Emmanuel Mounier, Personalism, and the Catholic Worker movement". Archived from the original on 2000-07-08.from Casa Juan Diego, i.e., The Houston Catholic Worker, July/August 1999
  37. ^ Sheehan 1959, p. 189.
  38. ^ Maurin, Peter. "Catholic Radicalism: Phrased Essays For The Green Revolution" (PDF). 1949.. New York: Catholic Worker Books. 1949. p. 207.
  39. ^ Paul Magno, "Why Peter Maurin Matters". Archived from the original on 2011-08-10.
  40. ^ Miller 1982, p. 248.
  41. ^ "Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (1996)". IMDb.
  42. ^ Zwick, Mark and Louise (July 2010). "Why Not Canonize Peter Maurin, Co-Founder with Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement?". Houston Catholic Worker. Retrieved 5 November 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Atkins, Robert. "Dorothy Day's Social Catholicism: The Formative French Influences". International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, vol. 13, no. 2 (2013):96-110.
  • Ellis, Marc H. Peter Maurin: Prophet in the Twentieth Century. New York: Paulist Press, 1981
  • Day, Dorothy. "Maurin, Aristide Peter" in New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. 2003.
  • Day, Dorothy and Francis J. Sicius, (eds.) Peter Maurin: Apostle to the World. Marynoll: Orbis Books, 2004.
  • Maurin, Peter. Catholic Radicalism: Phrased Essays For The Green Revolution. New York: Catholic Worker Books, 1949.
  • Maurin, Peter. Easy Essays. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977.
  • Maurin, Peter. The Green Revolution: Easy Essays on Catholic Radicalism. Fresno, Calif.: Academy Guild Press. 1961.
  • Miller, William D. (1982). Dorothy Day: a biography. San Francisco: Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-065752-9.
  • Sheehan, Arthur T. (1959). Peter Maurin: Gay believer. Garden City, NY: Hanover House.

External links[edit]