Catholic Worker

Dorothy Day Gets One Step Closer to Sainthood

Image via Jim Forest /

The famous Catholic Worker activist Dorothy Day once remarked, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” That hasn’t stopped the Archdiocese of New York, however, from moving forward with a “canonical inquiry,” the next step required to become eligible for beatification and then canonization, when a figure officially becomes a saint.

A Labor Day Reading, Listening, Watching List

Still from "Norma Rae"/20th Century Fox.
Still from "Norma Rae"/20th Century Fox.

I make no secret of the fact that there is a big soft spot in my heart for the tremendous gains of the labor movement in American history and a big sad spot for how certain unions — such as those representing meatpackers and agricultural workers — have been all but decimated.

So in no particular order, here are some of my favorite pro-labor, pro-union resources for really celebrating Labor Day. 

Protecting the Sacred

As part of Climate Impacts Day, Christians in D.C. hold circles to connect the d
As part of Climate Impacts Day, Christians in D.C. hold circles to connect the dots between weather and climate change.

Sacred the land,
Sacred the water,
Sacred the sky,
Holy and true,
Sacred all life,
Sacred each other,
All reflect God who is good.

Franciscan Brother Rufino Zaragoza, OFM

Last Friday night was the first time I uttered this refrain. As I sang, I felt a sense of gratitude to know the significance of these words and to feel the conviction of knowing that I have a responsibility in protecting that which is sacred.

Schema For Peace

In “Critical Mass” (January 2012), Karen Sue Smith’s summary of changes in the U.S. Catholic Church since Vatican II, I was dismayed not to see any mention of the profound influence of the sections on peace in “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.”

Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day and her friend Jim Douglass were both in Rome during the time of the Council, Day to fast for peace and Douglass to lobby bishops for a strong peace stance. And one was forthcoming: “Schema 13,” as it’s often called, gave Vatican grounding to the many Catholics who follow Day’s lead and oppose war and preparations for war.

Douglass is one of those Catholics. He and his wife, Shelley, led the campaign against the Trident nuclear submarines, culminating in the formation of the ecumenical Agape communities. These groups tracked the ominous White Train as it traveled across the heartland of the country, bringing nuclear components to the Bangor, Washington naval base. Sojourners featured this campaign in its February 1984 issue, and those chilling articles and calls to resistance were my introduction to the magazine.

In a recent oral history project that collected the stories of faith-based resisters for peace, I learned of many other Catholics—lay, clergy, and vowed religious—who were inspired by Vatican II to take their Christianity into the world in life-altering ways. Their voices continue to challenge the peace movement.             

Rosalie G. Riegle
Evanston, Illinois

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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.

A Life of Spiritual Adventure

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.

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.

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British Clergy to Support #OccupyLondon with Circle of Protection, Prayer

occupy london
On Sunday (10/30), the Anglican Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Chartres, met with Occupy London protesters who have encamped for several weeks now on the ground of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, in an ongoing attempt to get the demonstrators to leave church grounds.

Chartres wants the Occupiers to vacate cathedral property and stopped short, in an interview with the BBC yesterday, of saying he would oppose their forcible removal. Other British clergy, however, are rallying behind the demonstrators, saying they would physically (and spiritually) surround protesters at St. Paul's with a circle of prayer or "circle of protection."

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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