Eviction Crisis

In the aftermath of Peter Maurin’s death the struggling Catholic Workers – they were always struggling – felt the effects of his intercession on their behalf. Peter once said to Dorothy, in what might have been a moment of frustration when his own plans did not work out, but hers did, “Man proposes and woman disposes.” Now they felt that from Heaven he was the one disposing.

Shortly after his death they were plunged into an accommodation crisis. They were served with an eviction notice for their central headquarters on Mott Street in the Bowery – where they had been settled for fourteen years. It was 1949/50. Poor people and the destitute had become even more distasteful to the propertied class as prosperity in the general population began to increase in the post-war boom. Dorothy saw that renting was no longer an option.

“Who would rent to such tenants, such disreputable people,” she wrote. “The long lines of ragged men on the breadline, many of whom came to live with us for months, meant only dissipation, profligacy or idleness to the unthinking. Landlords did not want them. They would soil any house they lived in. Landlords never read Regamey, Léon Bloy or The Little Flowers of St. Francis; they knew nothing of St. Vincent de Paul.”

They would simply have to buy. But how? They had no capital. Their solution was to appeal to their readers for money, to search for a suitable property – and to pray.

They started a Rosary novena, which Dorothy described in this way: “a devotion during which one recites three novenas in petition and three in thanksgiving. If you don’t get what you need by the end of the thanksgiving of twenty-seven days, you begin another series – continuing in prayer with perseverance, with importunity.” She recalled Christ’s words: “Ask and you shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened to you.” She took that promise seriously.

“I know that we all prayed, coming and going, night and day, sleeping and waking. We cannot abandon a work that is begun; we cannot walk away and leave a family which has grown up around us. That very conviction made us look in our own neighborhood so that we would not be leaving the Bowery.  I do not know whether we prayed the required fifty-four days, but it was before the three months were up that we found our new home on Chrystie Street, a dozen blocks away.”

The funds came in to buy the house, supplied from all over the country in many small sums. There were two large donations of three thousand and two thousand dollars. They were able to go on with their work as before, in surroundings more spacious and comfortable than those on Mott Street. But their poverty was still acute and after the purchase there was less than a hundred dollars in the bank. Dorothy wrote: “We are as sure as we ever were that God can multiply the loaves, as He has sheltered the homeless these many years. If it is Peter’s intercession which has provided us with a house large enough for craft shop, discussion rooms, library, we thank him from our hearts! He can no longer say to me, ‘Man proposes and woman disposes’.”