Digitization project makes The Catholic Worker, dating to 1933, available to all

Mark Meade looked through the newly digitized archive of the Catholic Worker Newspaper in the Thomas Merton Center April 14. Meade is the center’s assistant director. The center contributed scans of the first decade of the newspaper to the archiving project. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

May 1 will mark 90 years since Servant of God Dorothy Day and Catholic social activist and theologian Peter Maurin founded The Catholic Worker newspaper. 

It was Mayday in 1933 and the paper, selling for a penny a copy, highlighted labor struggles, racism and other challenges through the lens of Catholic teaching.

Thanks to technological advances, for the first time, digitized copies of the newspapers from that first issue in 1933 to the present day can be accessed online.

Contributing to the project was the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, where hard copies of the publication’s first decade are housed.

Mark Meade, the center’s assistant director, said there’s been a renewed interest in the publication and in Day, who’s on the path toward sainthood.

“So much of the mission of The Catholic Worker is to put Catholic social teaching into practice,” said Meade. Some of the social issues found in the pages of the newspaper “still resonate today with poverty and the toll of war on working people.”

The Thomas Merton Center contributed scans of the paper’s first decade — 1933-1944 — to the Catholic News Archive, which made the project to digitize the newspapers possible, Meade said.

The scans contributed by the center were added to a database containing the other 80 years of the paper — the bulk of which was contributed by Marquette University’s archive, Meade noted. 

The Catholic Worker — from 1933-2021 — can be accessed online at thecatholicnewsarchive.org. The site hosts digitized collections of Catholic newspapers and other publications from around the country.

“It’s never been all brought together before. It’s the first time you can go from the very beginning to recent issues,” said Meade.

Mark Meade looked through original copies of The Catholic Worker Newspaper in the Thomas Merton Center April 14. Meade is the center’s assistant director. The center contributed scans of the first decade of the newspaper to the archiving project. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Though the newspaper copies can be accessed online, the print copies are still available for research, he said. The center also houses letters sent between Day and Thomas Merton, the influential Trappist monk who lived and wrote from the Abbey of Gethsemane.

The term Catholic Worker is often used to describe the Catholic Worker movement and its volunteers (known as Catholic Workers), as well as the publication of a Catholic Worker community. The Catholic Worker movement and first newspaper were established by Day and Maurin in New York. Their work continues today in New York and in cities across the United States.

The center’s copies of original The Catholic Worker came from the family of Joseph and Mary Alice Zarella, early Catholic Workers who died in 2006 and 2007, respectively. 

Joseph Zarella joined the movement in New York City, working with Day and Maurin in the 1930s and early 1940s. He met Mary Alice Lautner at the Catholic Worker house in New York when she came to volunteer. After they married, the couple moved to her hometown of Tell City, Ind., where they established a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality and raised their four daughters. 

In the late 1990s, the couple helped guide the establishment of Louisville’s Woodbine Catholic Worker, which sponsors the Casa Latina. 

The Zarella’s family members, many of whom attended Bellarmine, preserved the couples’ Catholic Worker-related documents and donated them to the Thomas Merton Center in 2010.

Meade noted that The Catholic Worker carries content that remains of interest to people today. 

In the past, it has featured the writings of Thomas Merton that dealt with opposition to war, racial justice, workers’ rights and justice for native peoples, he noted. Merton contributed well-known pieces, such as “The Wild Places,” which addressed environmental ethics, Meade said. That article was published in June of 1968, the last year of Merton’s life.

The newspaper also carried content dealing with culture and art. 

“There’s so much culture and art lifted up in the pages of the Catholic Worker. There’s a spirituality that comes forth from the pages,” Meade said. 

All that The Catholic Worker newspaper offers can now be accessed from anywhere thanks to the digitized database, he said. 

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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