Social Work and its Roots in Catholic Social Teaching

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By: Natalie Bauman, The Catholic University of America

The field of social work is one that has been constantly growing since its professional organization in the United States in the 1800s. When thinking of a social worker, one may call to mind media’s popular portrayal of cranky, burnt-out child welfare case workers. In reality, there is so much more to this field. Social workers are found in almost every area of business, in hospitals, in schools, and in many nonprofit organizations. Truly, there is no limit to the impact that the work of a social worker can have on society.

It is often said that individuals who work in this field were brought to it by a special calling. This concept has tones of the Catholic concept of a vocational calling. All Catholics are called to discern their “big V” and “little v” vocations. When it comes to a calling to social work, one might want to consider the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and how they relate to work done in the field. There are seven of these principles: life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; preferential option for the poor and vulnerable; dignity and the rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God’s creation. Each of these principles are meant to guide Catholics in everyday decisions and actions, so for those in the social work field, they can act as a foundation for the many important moral decisions that must be made in the field.

For example, for a social worker who is placed in a hospital setting it might be wise to consider the life and dignity of the human person when guiding patients through the end of life or a rocky start to the beginning of life. A case worker who manages the foster placements of children must do their best to make the decisions that give the most preferential option to both the child in question and the family which might be experiencing poverty, homelessness, violence, or illness. A social worker who works in the corporate world must remember the dignity and rights of the employees who are entrusted to their care. The examples could be endless; as a young Catholic studying to enter the field of social work I have realized the importance of also studying these principles and adhering to my faith and own personal beliefs even when confronted with difficulties in the field.

Every Catholic is called to point toward God in all that they do. For Catholic
professionals in the field of social work, it is necessary to be aware of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching in order to do so. Without these principles and without the infinite grace and mercy of our Lord, this field and those who are served by it would look incredibly different. Entering into social work is an incredible opportunity for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to give of themselves to others and to serve in a way that brings the light and healing of Christ to others.


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