Chicago Parish Announces the First Conference Dedicated to Peter Maurin, Co-Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement

In her autobiography The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day describes Peter Maurin as “a man of tremendous ambition, in spite of his simplicity, or perhaps because of it.” She continues: “He wanted to make a new synthesis, as St. Thomas had done in the Middle Ages, and he wanted to enlist the aid of a group of people in doing this.”

Maurin, with Day, was a cofounder of the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s. His goal of a “new synthesis” or “the theory of a green revolution” will move another step closer to realization with the first academic conference dedicated to his life, thought, and influence set to take place from September 6–8, 2024, at the St. Gregory the Great campus of Mary, Mother of God Parish in Chicago.

A self-styled “troubadour of Christ” whose “Easy Essays” are still reprinted in the pages of the Catholic Worker newspaper, Maurin conveyed “a sense of his mission as soon as you met him,” Day wrote. “He made you feel that you and all men [sic] had great and generous hearts with which to love God.”

As the world endures a “polycrisis” of war, climate change, forced displacement of peoples, and rising authoritarianism, Maurin’s vision for “a society in which it is easier for people to be good” takes on added urgency. The institutional church, too, has much to learn from the over 200 Catholic Worker communities that have voluntarily associated to carry out the works of mercy, hospitality, and economic justice inspired by Maurin and Day.

James Murphy, director of Canterbury House, a house of hospitality modeled on the Catholic Worker tradition, said in a statement: “Peter’s program of cult, culture, and cultivation is just as relevant to the church and world today as it was 90 years ago. His program points the way toward a radical renewal of the church, meaning, as Peter meant it, to get back to its roots.”

Mark Franzen, director of St. Gregory’s Hall, a cultural center at Mary, Mother of God Parish, also drew the connection between Maurin’s approach and the life of the church community. “It is fitting that this conference is held at a parish, where people from the Catholic Worker movement, the academy, and the church can reflect together on Maurin’s vision,” Franzen stated.

Conference organizers pointed out Maurin’s proposal for parishes to become places of encounter, where people from a variety of social, economic, and professional backgrounds could collaborate “in the making of a path from things as they are to things as they should be.”

The conference will take up this invitation by replacing traditional academic paper presentations and panels with roundtable discussions—an idea that has resonances with the working methods of the ongoing synod on synodality, and which shares the synod’s hope for less hierarchized, more inclusive social and ecclesiological spaces.

The Peter Maurin Conference is a collaboration between Mary, Mother of God Parish, the Hank Center for The Catholic Intellectual Heritage at the University of Loyola Chicago, and DePaul University’s Department of Catholic Studies. Lincoln Rice, author of The Forgotten Radical Peter Maurin, an annotated volume of Maurin’s essays, will provide a keynote address on the system of ideas found in Maurin’s first published “Easy Essays.” Registration information, submissions for roundtable proposals, and additional details can be found at the conference website. ♦

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