A Life in Letters | Sojourners

A Life in Letters

THERE IS MUCH to ponder and to treasure in this collection, which begins before Dorothy Day’s 1927 baptism and continues until 1980, the last year of her life: several hundred letters, not only to people with whom she worked, but to priests in the New York chancery, to college presidents, to strangers who asked how to become Catholic Workers, to strangers who berated the work, to family, and to countless friends.

To me, perhaps most precious—and most surprising—are the letters to Forster Batterham in the section titled “A Love Story.” Before she entered the Catholic Church, Forster was Dorothy’s partner and the father of their daughter, Tamar. He refused to marry her, saying that as an anarchist he wouldn’t stand for either a civil or religious ceremony. Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, has a searing scene of Forster knocking to be let in and Dorothy not answering the door; that closed door is portrayed as the end of the love story. But her letters show that Dorothy continued to try to change Forster’s mind.

She was struggling to find her way alone in the world as a single parent and a newly baptized Roman Catholic, and in these early letters, we don’t hear Saint Dorothy. Instead we hear someone who sounds like every young person in love—sometimes impetuous, sometimes angry, sometimes downright ditzy. What makes Dorothy different from many of us is that she never wavered in her newfound faith. Finally, in December 1932, she writes to Forster, “I have really given up hope now, so I won’t try to persuade you any more.”

A postscript to this stark ending: Her fellow Catholic Workers remember warmly Dorothy’s final years when Tamar, Forster, and Dorothy would spend evenings together in her room, drinking wine and watching television, finally living a bit of the family life they’d never had.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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