To the Bishops of the USA: a Plea for Houses of Hospitality

[An address by Peter Maurin to the unemployed at a meeting held in September, 1933, at Manhattan Lyceum, and published in THE CATHOLIC WORKER, (October, 1933) in order that it might be sent to all the Bishops and Archbishops meeting at the National Conference of Catholic Charities in New York.]

The Duty of Hospitality

People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’ sake.
Modern society calls the beggar
bum and panhandler
and gives him the bum’s rush.
But the Greeks used to say
that people in need
are the ambassadors of the gods.
Although you may be called
bums and panhandlers
you are in fact the Ambassadors of God.
As God’s Ambassadors
you should be given food,
clothing and shelter
by those who are able to give it.
Mahometan teachers tell us
that God commands hospitality,
and hospitality is still practiced
in Mahometan countries.
But the duty of hospitality
is neither taught nor practiced
in Christian countries.

The Municipal Lodgings

That is why you who are in need
are not invited to spend the night
in the homes of the rich.
There are guest rooms today
in the homes of the rich
but they are not for those who need them.
And they are not for those who need them
because those who need them
are no longer considered
as the Ambassadors of God.
So people no longer consider
hospitality to the poor
as a personal duty.
And it does not disturb them a bit
to send them to the city,
where they are given the
hospitality of the “Muni”
at the expense of the taxpayer.
But the hospitality that the
“Muni” gives to the down and out
is no hospitality
because what comes from the
taxpayer’s pocketbook
does not come from his heart.

Back to Hospitality

The Catholic unemployed
should not be sent to the “Muni.”
The Catholic unemployed
should be given hospitality
in Catholic Houses of Hospitality.
Catholic Houses of Hospitality
are known in Europe
under the name of hospices.
There have been hospices in Europe
since the time of Constantine.
Hospices are free guest houses;
hotels are paying guest houses.
And paying guest houses or hotels
are as plentiful
as free guest houses or hospices
are scarce.
So hospitality, like everything else,
has been commercialized.
So hospitality, like everything else,
must now be idealized.

Houses of Hospitality

We need Houses of Hospitality
to give to the rich
the opportunity to serve the poor.
We need Houses of Hospitality
to bring the Bishops to the people
and the people to the Bishops.
We need Houses of Hospitality
to bring back to institutions
the technique of institutions.
We need Houses of Hospitality
to show what idealism looks like
when it is practiced.
We need Houses of Hospitality
to bring social justice
through Catholic Action
exercised in Catholic institutions.


We read in the Catholic Encyclopedia
that during the early ages of Christianity
the hospice (or the House of Hospitality)
was a shelter for the sick, the poor,
the orphans, the old, the traveler,
and the needy of every kind.
Originally the hospices (or
Houses of Hospitality)
were under the supervision of the Bishops,
who designated priests
to administer the spiritual
and temporal affairs
of these charitable institutions.
The fourteenth statute
of the so-called Council of Carthage,
held about 436,
enjoins upon the Bishops
to have hospices (or Houses of Hospitality)
in connection with their churches.

Parish Houses of Hospitality

Today we need Houses of Hospitality
as much as they needed them then.
if not more so.
We have Parish Houses for the priests,
Parish Houses for educational purposes,
Parish Houses for recreational purposes,
but no Parish Houses of Hospitality.
Bossuet says that the poor
are the first children of the Church.
so the poor should come first.
People with homes should
have a room of hospitality.
So as to give shelter
to the needy members
of the parish.
The remaining needy
members of the parish
should be given shelter in a Parish Home.
Furniture, clothing, and food
should be sent to the needy
members of the parish
at the Parish House of Hospitality.
We need Parish Homes
as well as Parish Domes.
In the new Cathedral of Liverpool
there will be a Home
as well as a dome.

Houses of “Catholic Action”

Catholic Houses of Hospitality
should be more than free guest houses
for the Catholic unemployed.
They could be vocational training schools,
including the training for the priesthood,
as Father Corbett proposes.
They could be Catholic reading rooms,
as Father McSorley proposes.
They could be Catholic Instruction Schools,
as Father Cornelius Hayes proposes.
They could be Round-Table
Discussion Groups,
as Peter Maurin proposes.
In a word, they could be
Catholic Action Houses,
where Catholic Thought
is combined with Catholic Action.