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Catholic Worker movement alive and well in name of Dorothy Day; Larry Chapp to speak at St. Thomas More Oratory

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Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and its newspaper, The Catholic Worker, is depicted in a stained-glass window at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in the Staten Island borough of New York. "Day is a wonderful exemplar of someone who was both critical and at the same time incredibly supportive of the church," said Ronald C. Arnett, chair of communication and rhetorical studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The Catholic Worker Movement and its significance in modern culture will be the topic of a talk at the St. Thomas More Oratory at the University of Delaware on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. The oratory is located at 45 Lovett Ave., Newark. The talk is open to the public and free of charge.

Larry Chapp, a former theology professor at De Sales University in Center Valley, Pa., is coming to Newark at the invitation of William Hamant, the campus minister and director of catechesis at the St. Thomas More Oratory. They were once colleagues at De Sales. Chapp grew interested in the work of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who began the Catholic Worker movement in the early 1930s during the Great Depression.

“They started it essentially as a movement to feed the poor,” Chapp said recently from his home in northeast Pennsylvania.

Day and Maurin opened soup kitchens and emergency shelters – houses of hospitality – in New York City, and they began a newspaper, The Catholic Worker, which is still sold today for the same price it cost then: a penny.

Maurin also started the Catholic Worker farms to grow food and act as an advocate for the back-to-the-land homesteading movement.

“Peter, I like to say, was ahead of his time,” Chapp said.

The farms gave people from New York City a chance to recharge their spiritual batteries, he said. Maurin also wanted to give people an opportunity to rediscover artisanal skills, such as canning food, raising animals, spinning wool and carpentry, for example.

Chapp and his wife, Carmina, and a former student at De Sales, Father John Gribowich, were enamored enough with the Catholic Worker farm movement that they opened one themselves north of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in Harveys Lake. Initially, they thought they would be donating to soup kitchens, but they found that most donations there come from grocery stores looking to dispose of food before it reaches its expiration date. But they do grow some crops and raise sheep, and the products all to go people in need.

They did not grow vegetables in 2020 or this year because they rely on volunteers to do much of the work, and the coronavirus pandemic put a dent in their availability.
“We’ve been in kind of a little bit of down cycle the last year and a half,” Chapp said.

Father Gribowich, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., left the farm in September to become a postulant at the Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York. He is now Father Philip Neri.

The farm will be part of the talk, but his main focus will be the theological and cultural vision of Day and Maurin. They were strong critics of modern culture, corporate capitalism and militarism. Chapp will speak about how their views apply to life in the 21st century.

“They just didn’t want to help the poor. They were devout Catholics,” he said.

Running a farm is not something Chapp had anticipated. He said he wanted to teach at a Catholic university, and in 1994, he earned his doctoral degree from Fordham University in New York. He began teaching at what was then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

“That was my first job, and it was a pretty small place. I really thought Allentown College was going to be just a steppingstone for me, but I ended up loving the place,” he said. “It has a real family atmosphere. It’s a very healthy place, a healthy environment.”

There was no graduate department of theology, which Chapp initially found disappointing, but he found that he loved teaching undergraduates.

“The relationships I developed with students over time, that’s what kept me there,” he said.

Eventually, however, he was looking for “a bigger challenge.” Having taught a class on Catholic social justice, he was searching for “more meat in my spiritual life.” So he, his wife and Father Philip Neri opened the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm.

“All three of us sort of independently from one another were sort of converging on the same idea,” he said.

Chapp also stays busy with the farm’s website, dorothydaycwfarm.org, and his blog, www.gaudiumetspes22.com, which is named after one of the four constitutions resulting from Vatican II. Produced in 1965, it is the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.