The Common Good

Obama Calls Dorothy Day a 'Great Reformer'

Dorothy Day. Getty Images.
Dorothy Day head of Catholic Worker inside the worker office. (Photo by Judd Mehlman/NY Daily News via Getty Images.)

At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama named Dorothy Day as a “great reformer in American history."

Who woulda thunk it?

This is the same woman J. Edgar Hoover once called a "threat to national security."

Here’s the exact quote from the Obama’s speech:

We can’t leave our values at the door. If we leave our values at the door, we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries, and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Heschel — the majority of great reformers in American history did their work not just because it was sound policy, or they had done good analysis, or understood how to exercise good politics, but because their faith and their values dictated it, and called for bold action — sometimes in the face of indifference, sometimes in the face of resistance.

And here’s a quote from our sister, Dorothy Day: “Our problems arise from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” 

While we are at it, here are a few more quotes from Dorothy:

  • The only way to live in any true security is to live so close to the bottom 
that when you fall you do not have far to drop, you do not have much to lose.
     
  • The true atheist is the one who denies God’s image in the ‘least of these.'
     
  • The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?
     
  • We are not expecting Utopia here on this earth. But God meant things to be much easier than we have made them. A man has a natural right to food, clothing, and shelter... A family needs work as well as bread… We must keep repeating these things…  Eternal life begins now.
     
  • We are the nation the most powerful, the most armed and we are supplying arms and money to the rest of the world where we are not ourselves fighting. We are eating while there is famine in the world.
     
  • Most of our life is unimportant, filled with trivial things from morning 
till night. But when it is transformed by love it is of interest even to 
the angels.
     
  • I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.
     
  • Spend your life working on something that outlasts it.

And of course there's perhaps her most classic line: “Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.”

So Dorothy didn’t want to be a saint, but she was named a national hero instead by the President of the US of A.

Fascinating.

Listen to Dorthy in her own words below in a video from the early 1970s:

See video
Day was the mother of the Catholic Worker movement, and indeed a great reformer and revolutionary. To read more about her, check out Dorothy Day: Selected Writings (edited by Robert Ellsberg). And last year marked 25 years since her death, so her diaries were released in a book titled, The Duty of Delight.

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.

 

 

 

 

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