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By Derek Rotty, Crisis Magazine, May 1, 2020
Derek Rotty is Director of Evangelization and Discipleship at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Jackson, Tennessee. He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Memphis. His is the author of A Life of Conversion: Meeting Christ in the Gospels (OSV Press, 2019). His website is www.derekrotty.com.
Each year on May 1, the Catholic faithful celebrate the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This feast day, instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1955, was meant to provide downtrodden laborers with a spiritual patron, as well as an alternative to the communist labor agitation that was prevalent at the time. The Catholic faith has a great heritage of honoring and celebrating labor and laborers. Because of that, this feast day offers us an opportunity, and a great responsibility, to build a robust and life-giving culture through laborers and their work. We must continue to take up that clarion call, even in the twenty-first century.
The feast of Saint Joseph the Worker was placed on May 1 specifically as an alternative to May Day, which was established in the 1880s by the International Workers of the World (IWW), a communist labor union. Their purpose was to provide laborers a break from the drudgery of their jobs, and to create space to advocate for fairer working conditions. There were many instances, however, of those rallies creating social strife and turning violent. The IWW agitated laborers with slogans like “Workingmen to Arms!” and “One pound of dynamite is better than a bushel of ballots!” For many years, fist fights, gun shots, and explosions pockmarked American cities each year in early May. These were radical, even deadly responses to contemporary labor conditions. They were not the responses that would lead to true and lasting peace or a healthy culture. Pius XII knew this and presented the example of Saint Joseph as a much better guide for bringing about what exploited laborers needed. …