Casa Alma is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. Would Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, approve? She would not. Dorothy maintained a strong opposition to pursuing tax-exempt status for the Catholic Worker. She explained to the readers of the Catholic Worker newspaper, “We believe also that the government has no right to legislate as to who can…perform the Works of Mercy,” and, “To ask that permission to obey Christ by applying for exemption, a costly and lengthy process, is against our religious principles.”1
Today, many Catholic Worker communities maintain Dorothy’s perspective—they do not form organizations, preferring to remain informal and unincorporated communities of people caring for one another and for the poor. They do not apply for tax exempt status “because they believe their work is an act of conscience, and they wish to carry out their activities without government regulation.”2
Other Catholic Worker communities create non-profit organizations and pursue tax-exempt status in order to own and steward property for the common good, to develop a broad base of services, and to divert funds from the works of war to serve the poor. Like Casa Alma, many Catholic Worker communities do not view tax-exemption as ‘seeking permission’ to house the homeless or feed the hungry, rather it is viewed as seeking a deeper accountability to the broader community for the work already being done.
Since our founding in 2009, Casa Alma has been incorporated as a non-profit organization. We have a Board of Directors which is non-hierarchical, operates by consensus, and seeks to be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We moved down the path of incorporation because it enabled us to purchase the Nassau Street properties for hospitality, community and urban farming. Yet, we keep in mind Peter Maurin’s assertion that the Catholic Worker is not an organization, but an organism; we strive to be open to growth, deeper levels of faithfulness, and unanticipated changes.
In 2011, we decided to pursue tax-exempt status as a means of stewarding the generous donations of time and money gifted to Casa Alma and to ensure that the Nassau Street homes will continue to be available to serve people in need. Dorothy Day wrote of this process, “Only…after their application has been filed, and after investigation and long delays, clarifications, intercession, and urgings by lawyers – often an expensive and long-drawn-out procedure – this tax-exempt status is granted.”
Following our initial application, Casa Alma did submit an additional 54 pages of documentation to the IRS (decidedly not the most fun of tasks), however, we have not found this process to be expensive nor has it required legal representation. Our tax-exempt status was approved in November 2012, and has since opened many opportunities for local partnerships. For more information or a copy of our by-laws, please contact us.
1 “We Go On Record: CW Refuses Tax Exemption”, The Catholic Worker, May 1972
2 “House Work: Catholic Worker Houses of Today”, U.S. Catholic, 9/29/11