Day, Dorothy

Houses of Hospitality

"It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.” These words, which close Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness, open Dan Mc­Kanan’s new book on the Catholic Worker movement today. Founded in 1933 by Day and Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and McKanan’s new book describes how today’s Catholic Workers live out the “works of mercy”—including houses of hospitality for the poor, instruction on the social teachings of Christianity, and rural farming communes.

McKanan presents nuanced and vivid de­­­­­s­crip­­tions of some of the 200 Catholic Worker houses today, with particular emphasis on the increasing role of families. As befits a theological scholar, McKanan’s thought­ful research in­cludes interviews with individual workers and material from the Cath­olic Worker ar­chives at Marquette University, which complements existing literature on the movement. He points out that the movement was never monolithic, even when the founders were alive, and that frequent communication—especially in the form of newsletters and national gatherings—provide cohesion and coherence among the communities.

McKanan doesn’t neglect ongoing controversies, especially in the book’s longest section, “Rules, Families, and the Church,” where he asks: How “Catholic” is the Catholic Worker? How do families fit in? How do individual communities respond to the “Spiritual Works of Mercy,” which include instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, and admonishing sinners? It is under these “works” that so many Catholic Wor­ker houses take the lead in the nonviolent resistance to war that has always characterized the movement as much as its commitment to feeding and housing the poor.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

'Christ-Haunted' Journeys

"A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the report and goes in search of the evidence, aspiring to be an eyewitness.... Pilgrims often make the journey in company, but each must be changed individually; they must see for themselves, each with his or her own eyes. And as they return to ordinary life the pilgrims must tell others what they saw, recasting the story in their own terms."

In The Life You Save May Be Your Own, first-time author Paul Elie traces the lives and pilgrimages of four prolific Catholic writers of the last century. The journeys of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy paralleled one another in many ways, yet all four related accounts of their travels—both internal and in the world—with narratives utterly their own.

In this exhaustive, nearly 600-page account, Elie does an impressive job of weaving together and wandering between their life stories, especially considering that interactions between the four were uneven and infrequent, if marked by revealing details. Day and Merton carried on a lengthy correspondence, but never met. Percy and Merton drank bourbon together on the porch at Merton's hermitage in Kentucky, and found they had little to say to one another. In 1961, O'Connor congratulated Percy with a short note: "Dear Mr. Percy, I'm glad we lost the War and you won the Nat'l Book Award." (O'Connor's comment came in response to Percy's declaration that the South produced fine literature because defeat had joined Southerners together and given them something to defend.)

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September-October 2003
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Don't Call Me a Saint!

While I am certain that Dorothy Day would want whatever money it takes to canonize her directed toward the poor, I can't wait for the holy cards. The psychedelic-colored, 3D kind with the eyes that follow you across the room. Or the humidity-sensitive Catholic Worker house that turns from blue to pink as the weather changes. Believe me, sainthood can kick up some serious kitsch.

In March the Vatican declared Day a "Servant of God" and gave a green light to the process by which Dorothy Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker movement, may be canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. New York City's late Cardinal John O'Connor, who officially initiated Day's canonization process, took fire from traditional and progressive Catholics alike. Traditionalists argue that a woman who had an abortion, had a daughter with her common-law husband, and consorted with communists makes a poor model for a righteous Christian life. Progressives worry that sainthood will trivialize Day and distance her from the everyday world in which she lived so fully.

Claretian Publications' Tom McGrath, who first proposed Day's canonization in 1983, recently told the New Orleans Time-Picayune, "I can understand the fear that a lot of Catholic Workers have, that she'll be tamed and prettied up...but she could do a lot of good for sainthood by driving home the idea that a lot of these people have a certain wildness in them."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

St. Dorothy Day?

Cardinal John O’Connor of New York announced that he is preparing to propose sainthood for Dorothy Day. In 1933, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin began the Catholic Worker movement in New York City.

While this may be a positive affirmation for faith-based activists, Dorothy likely would have had a different opinion about the prospect of sainthood. She told the Chicago Tribune a few years before she died, "That kind of talk makes me sick. That’s the way people try to dismiss you. If you’re a saint, then you must be impractical and utopian, and nobody has to pay any attention to you."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Between Dorothy and God

'There was never yet an uninteresting life," wrote Mark Twain. This statement could not be more true about Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker and lifelong advocate for the poor.

Entertaining Angels, the soon-to-be-released cinematic portrayal of her life, focuses on the 20-year span between 1917 and 1937. Dorothy is introduced as an ardent socialist and suffragette. She's young and idealistic, while smoking cigarettes and talking tough.

Dorothy's life progresses from protesting for women's rights at a demonstration to arguing against social injustices at the newsroom of the The Call, the socialist newspaper where she works. She hangs out at Hell Hole, a smoky Bohemian saloon, bantering with bawdy friends and colleagues, including playwright Eugene O'Neill. And an ill-fated love affair with Lionel Moise ends in a heart-wrenching abortion and depression.

Then Dorothy turns to a simpler life, living in a small beach house on Staten Island. This healing period includes a common-law marriage to biologist Forster Batterham, and the birth of their daughter, Tamar. Interspersed throughout this time is a growing attraction to, and conflict with, the Catholic Church. While living on Staten Island, she meets Sister Aloysius, a dedicated disciple of Christ who ministers to the poor and needy. The relationship between these two develops as each recognizes the intelligent, compassionate, and street-smart woman in the other.

Dorothy becomes more involved in the church, while continuing to care about the plight of society's outcasts. She finally converts to Catholicism, has her daughter baptized, and is baptized herself. Dorothy's conversion ultimately leads to the disintegration of her relationship with Batterham and her return to New York City.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September-October 1996
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Subscribe