Peter Maurin and St. Therese of Lisieux were very strong influences on the work of Dorothy Day. Born on this day in 1877, Peter was a peasant farmer from southern France who immigrated to New York in 1909. For 10 years of Peter’s life he was not Catholic citing his reason for not living as a Catholic should. While tutoring in the mid 1920’s, Peter had a conversion and was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi. He began tutoring for free and like St. Francis, viewed labor as a gift to the greater community.
Peter had a keen mind and he devised a Catholic social philosophy that brought together a multitude of different interest, like sociology, politics, and economics and placed them at the service of the Gospel message. He proposed a social and religious program that was designed to improve social order and to create a society that made it easier for people to be good.
Peter first met Dorothy Day in 1932, when she has just returned home from DC after covering the Hunger March for America and Commonweal. While in DC, Day had prayed to God for inspiration and when she arrived at her apartment in New York, Peter was waiting for her at the kitchen table. For four months Peter worked with Day and together they began a newspaper to inform people about Catholic social teaching. The Catholic Worker began on May 1st, 1933 by Day and Maurin. Along with the newspaper, they also established a hospitality house to welcome and feed the poor and initiated weekly meetings for people who were dedicated to social justice.
Their efforts developed into the Catholic Worker Movement as we know it today. After Maurin left Day he lived out the remainder of his life in Pennsylvania where he worked on the first Catholic Worker owned farming commune known as Mary Farm. Maurin died on May 15th, 1949 on the feast day of St. Dympha, patroness of mental illness.
As evidenced by Day in The Long Loneliness, Day said she would never have begun the Catholic Worker without him. "Peter was a revelation to me, I do know this--that when people came into contact with Peter...they changed, they awoke, they began to see, things became as new, they looked at life in the light of the Gospels. They admitted to the truth he possessed and lived by, and though they themselves may have failed to go the whole way, their faces were turned at least towards the light."