As a participant/observer at several Catholic Worker houses, Harry Murray witnessed firsthand the response of Workers to the needs of the homeless. In this book, he examines the significance of the Catholic Worker movement's practice of hospitality to the homeless and contrasts it with professional rehabilitation as an approach to aiding the poor. Defining hospitality as a voluntary, noncommercial relationship between host and guest, Murray traces the notion in various societies throughout history, in myth, and especially in Christian tradition. He recounts the origins of the Catholic Worker and portrays the practice of hospitality at three Worker houses: St. Joseph's House in New York City, St. Joseph's House in Rochester, New York, and the Mustard Seed in Worcester, Massachusetts. Weaving together personal experiences with sociological analysis, Murray describes the practical difficulties of providing hospitality to anyone who needs it. He characterizes each organization's institutionalized anarchy, the decision-making processes, the philosophy of personalism in action, as well as the daily challenge to recognize the importance, the divinity, within each guest.
While acknowledging some of the realities of voluntary poverty-vermin, filth, crowded quarters, and the potential for danger Murray compares the project of 'doing the Works of Mercy' to the rehabilitation model set up by the state. The trained professional aims to change the individual for the benefit of society and effectively allows society to remain unexamined and unchanged. Murray argues that hospitality is a model for empowering ourselves in the face of trends toward bureaucratization and professionalization of human relationships. Harry Murray is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nazareth College of Rochester.