The Perennial Nature of the Catholic Worker Farms: A Reconsideration of Failure


  • I am grateful to Michael Carolan, Chris Rosin, Lynn Davidman, Christopher Hamlin, Tim Miller, William Collinge, Eric Anglada, Ryan Dohoney, and the anonymous reviewers for their guidance and suggestions.


Contemporary challenges in rural and environmental politics hinge on understanding what success and failure mean. One avenue of studying success and failure of political and social change efforts is to study social movements and intentional communities often equated with how many years such efforts persisted. The Catholic Worker movement's combination of a vision of radical social change, religion, nonviolence, hospitality, activism, and agrarianism involve publications, urban houses, and farms that constitute a movement and a network of autonomous intentional communities. The Catholic Worker movement's communal farms began in 1933 and at various points those efforts were deemed failures. Thus, the story of the Catholic Worker farms is one of impermanence and struggle for a desired ideal. However, what we are missing in condemning the farms to failure is the utter success since the 1970s of a strong agrarian and environmental strain of the Catholic Worker movement based on farm activity, activism, and cooperative economics. This study reconceptualizes failure in the language of process and context. The Catholic Worker farms case study refigures failure such that we can articulate a politics of possibility related to the dramatic challenges not only of society but also of the environment.