The Common Good
December 2011

A Life of Spiritual Adventure

by Rosalie Riegle | December 2011

Dorothy Day's deep love of God and her unwavering ability to see God in those the world shuns.

DOROTHY DAY HEARD the call of God. This new biography shows clearly and with fascinating detail how this call, once heard, was lived out in a life of adventure, both spiritual and world-filled. Written by her co-Worker and friend Jim Forest and greatly expanded from his 1986 biography of the indefatigable founder of the Catholic Worker, this book will delight both those who feel they know Day from her writings and those meeting her for the first time in its pages.

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Included are more than 200 photos, many published here for the first time. Also of interest are sidebars quoting Day’s writings, including her recently available diaries and letters (see Sojourners, August 2008 and March 2011).

It’s all there: Her birth in Brooklyn, surviving the San Francisco earthquake, her teenage years in Chicago and at the University of Illinois, her defiance in becoming a journalist against her father’s wishes, her love affairs—both tragic and happy—and finally her conversion after the birth of her daughter, Tamar. We read of her meeting Peter Maurin and how they began to publish The Catholic Worker and from there to found a lay movement. People who only know the public Day—her hospitality, her standing up for the downtrodden and against U.S. militarism—will find especially endearing the stories of her young years when she struggled to find a place for her writing talents, when she loved deeply and sometimes unwisely, and when she searched for a way to be a Christian single parent after leaving the father of her child. Others will resonate with her waning years, when her outward travels were curtailed and she sometimes felt herself a prisoner of an aging body.

Yes, Day’s life was a passionate adventure as she struggled to articulate a radical gospel to both a complacent Roman Catholic Church and a culture where few shared her unswerving pacifism. Recounted in All is Grace are her many outward journeys, to England and Ireland and Russia and to Rome to lobby for peace at the Second Vatican Council, meeting Mother Teresa, visiting the many Catholic Worker communities across the U.S. But her most important adventure was the spiritual journey, as her faith deepened and broadened through constant prayer. This prayer helped her to surmount many difficulties, some neglected in Forest’s narrative, such as the controversy generated by the retreats given by Fr. Pacifique Roy and later by Fr. John Hugo during the ’40s. These retreats reinforced her conviction, learned from Maurin, that “followers of Jesus should not ignore the more demanding aspects of the gospel.” Some in the movement and in her family saw this as her being overly scrupulous, but Day saw it as grace and bedrock.

Again and again in this beautiful biography, we see the core of Day—her deep love of God and her unwavering ability to see God in those the world shuns. As Forest writes in the “personal remembrance” that ends the biography, “Dorothy has helped us better understand one of the primary biblical truths: that each person, no matter how damaged or battered by the events and circumstances of life, is a bearer of the image of God and deserves to be recognized as such.” That lesson, lived over and over again in her long and adventurous life, continues to challenge us to change the face of America.

Rosalie Riegle has written several books on the Catholic Worker, including Dorothy Day: Portraits by Those Who Knew Her.

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