The Catholic Labor Network hopes to be a place for those Catholics, lay, religious and clergy, who are active in their churches and in unions to learn about their Church’s teachings as regards to labor issues, pray for those who are working for economic justice and share information about events and struggles that may be taking place in their area.
For over one hundred years, the Catholic Church has been a voice of support for workers, and a conscience to the body politic when it pondered issues dealing with the distribution of wealth and the condition of workers.
As far back as 1891, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed a radical new message to the people of Europe, and to a lesser extent North America. Pope Leo’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum , spoke out clearly for those who participated in God’s creative power by the work of their hands and minds. He pointed out the errors intrinsic to the new socialist philosophies that were spreading among intellectuals and workers. Though these philosophies attempted to give relief to the working class they often did so by introducing a new state of war, the Class Struggle, and a new social structures that was threatening to the family and the traditions of society. However, Pope Leo’s concerns were not reserved only for those who would be considered on the left. He strongly called to task the new bourgeois class who used their new wealth as a means of controlling and oppressing the industrial worker.
The pope reminded the owners of production that they could not ignore the inherent, divine dignity of every worker, and that the welfare of workers and their families could not be left to the invisible hand of the market place. Finally, he reminded all concerned that workers have an inherent right to organize themselves into associations so that they could collectively work for their common good and prosperity.
This first encyclical had a dramatic effect on European and North American thought and public policy. It established Catholic social teaching, defined the fundamental principles for which subsequent Catholic teaching would emerge, and placed the Church firmly on the side workers when they sought justice and dignity in their workplace and in society.
The spirit of Rerum Novarum grabbed the hearts of many clergy, religious and Catholic laity. In our country, many of the Catholic labor leaders and clergy took up the challenges of Rerum Novarum, and worked diligently to bring Pope Leo’s vision to bear in the work place and in society.
Great Catholic figures like Msgr. John Ryan, Dorothy Day, John Cort, Msgr. Jack Egan and Msgr. George Higgins and others dedicated their lives to make the fundamental principles of economic justice which was found in Rerum Novarum and subsequent papal encyclicals part of the very fabric of society.
In 1995, a small group of religious , laity and clergy gathered in Decatur, Illinois, a town that was being rocked by two major strikes and one lockout. Their goal was to hear from those who had been active in Catholic labor issues, pray with one another, and to begin to re-establish a network of support.
This web page is an expression of that meeting. We hope that those who share the common concern for the proclamation of the Church’s social teaching and welfare and dignity of working people will use this page as a resource, and a place where issues in their own community can be shared throughout our Church community.