Dorothy Day

Saint G.K. Chesterton? Some Delight, Others Worry About Effort to Canonize Writer

Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. Photo via RNS/courtesy American Chesterston Society

Christians and Jews are mounting campaigns for and against a path to sainthood for British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), one of the world’s best-known Catholic converts.

Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, where Chesterton lived and worked, has ordered an examination of Chesterton’s life — the first step in what is likely to be a long and unpredictable process toward canonization.

The Place of the Green Wand

A GiveBox in Berlin / Sally McGrane

Something called a GiveBox appeared
this fall on Falckensteinstrasse, and my first gift

was a memory: Dorothy Day, decades ago,
gently quoting St. Basil to me: If you have two coats,

you've stolen one from the poor.
Like a walk-in cupboard on the sidewalk, brightly

painted, decked out with flowers, this GiveBox
is for the anonymous exchange of gifts.

I brought books here and found a biography of Tolstoy,
who once made my teen-aged self dream of giving away

everything, and now, over a whiskey,
the idea returns: what if I stripped myself

of all but the necessary, left things off, day by day,
at the GiveBox? Of course, whatever his genius,

Tolstoy's life ended in confusion,
in quarrels, in flight—did he really think,

at 82, he could dispossess
himself and set off wandering? When his body

was brought home, it was buried
in the place of the green wand,

the glade where his twelve-year-old brother
once told a story about a stick hidden in the earth

that, if found, would bring lasting happiness to us all.
As though, having all but rejected his own novels,

he could dispense with everything
but story—Tolstoy wanted no tombstone,

no service, no clergy, and after all he had written
it was the legend his brother made up that he turned to.

A parable Dorothy Day, who lived to 83,
took seriously until the end.

I met her in my teens when she was in her 70s,
just out of jail after picketing for the rights

of migrants. Visiting a nephew who was dating my sister,
she joined us for dinner—someday, someone may ask me

the old question,If you could have a meal
with anyone, living or dead
… Going to a French restaurant

with Dorothy Day would be a good answer,
and I was lucky enough to actually do it,

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St. Dorothy Day? Controversial, Yes, but Bishops Push for Canonization

Circa 1969, American social activist Dorothy Day. Getty Images
Circa 1969, American social activist Dorothy Day. Getty Images

BALTIMORE — The Catholic bishops gathered here for their annual meeting couldn’t agree on a statement on the economy on Tuesday morning, but with a unanimous voice vote that afternoon they easily backed a measure to push sainthood for Dorothy Day, whose life and work were dedicated to championing the poor.

Indeed, it was a remarkable moment for the reputation of Day, one of the most famous figures in 20th-century Catholicism.

Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day lived a bohemian life in New York City in the 1920s while working as a leftwing journalist. She endured a failed marriage, a suicide attempt, and had an abortion when suddenly, after the birth of her daughter, she converted to Catholicism.

That decision confounded her literary friends but launched her on a new path of activism and piety.

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.

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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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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