St. Joseph the Worker

Carpenter (First Century)
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Illustration by Br. Martin Erspamer, OSB, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, Indiana. Used with permission.

Ninety years ago today, on May 1, 1933, Dorothy Day, a young Catholic convert with a history in the radical movement, set out with a few companions for a Communist rally in New York’s Union Square to distribute the first issue of The Catholic Worker. In her front-page editorial, she wrote, “For those who think that there is no hope for the future, no recognition of their plight— this little paper is addressed. It is printed to call their attention to the fact that the Catholic Church has a social program—to let them know that there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.” 

Since 1889, May 1 had been claimed and celebrated by socialists and labor unions around the world as International Workers Day, in commemoration of the “Haymarket martyrs” of 1886 who fought for the eight-hour day. In staking out this day to launch her paper, Day was emphasizing the bonds between the Gospel message and the cause of labor. In 1955 Pope Pius XII did the same when he assigned to May 1 a new feast dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker. 

Though in modern times St. Joseph had figured in popular preaching as the ideal “provider and protector” for the Holy Family, now he is remembered also as an emblem of Catholic social teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of working people. In both roles, Dorothy Day claimed him as the patron of the Catholic Worker. She rejoiced when the Church “baptized” this anniversary date of her movement. 

“Is this not Jesus, the carpenter’s son?” —Matthew 13:55 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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