Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement along with Peter Marin. Her father was a journalist which involved the family moving around a lot in her childhood. Following in her fathers footsteps Dorothy also became a journalist working for various socialist publications. She published an autobiographical novel ‘The Eleventh Virgin’ in 1924 in which she talks about her abortion. The movie rights of which she sold and purchased a beach cottage on Staten island with the money. Shortly after she began a common-law marriage to Foster Batterham with whom she had a child, Tamar in 1927. It was the birth of her daughter that played a central role in her own conversion to Catholicism. Dorothy’s conversion to Catholicism from communism is recounted in her book “‘From Union Square to Rome’. Her baptism shortly after that of her daughters led to her common-in-law husband leaving her and Tamar.

After her conversion Dorothy landed commissions writing articles for two Catholic publications, America magazine and Commonweal. It was while Dorothy was in Washington DC covering the ‘hunger march’ (a worker rights protest) for Commonweal in December 1932, that she felt the absence of the presence of the Church in standing in solidarity with workers. During this visit to DC she prayed for some choice between communism and industrial capitalism, seeing the false materialism of both, at the National Bascilica shrine. Upon her return to New York she found Peter Marin sitting in her living room. Her prayer had been answered in an unusual way by the arrival of a French peasant, who wanted to indoctrinate the masses and lead a social revival based upon the social teaching of the Church.

On May 1st 1933 The Catholic Worker was published and distributed in Union Square, New York and shortly afterward hospitality begun. In 1939 From Union Square to Rome, the story of Dorothy Day’s conversion was published as the circulation of The Catholic Worker increased and the number of houses of hospitality around the country increased. In 1941 Dorothy wrote a letter to all Catholic Worker houses in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack. The letter was also published in the January 1942 edition of The Catholic Worker , in it Dorothy reiterated what had been articulated in 1936, that The Catholic Worker was pacifist in strict allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. This resulted in many houses closing and many people leaving the movement for it’s extremism. Throughout the 1950’s Dorothy along with others in the movement were arrested for refusing to join Civil Defense air drill raids. During the Second Vatican Council Dorothy traveled to Rome and with a group of women held a vigil in St Peter’s square asking the Church fathers to emphatically reject war. Dorothy along with these women were among the very last people who Blessed John XXIII received in public audience. The last time Dorothy was arrested was in August 1973 when she was demonstrating with Cesar Chavez and the Untied Farm Workers in California.

Dorothy had a great devotion to St Therese of Lisieux and published a biography of her in 1961. Dorothy was a great women of the Eucharist. She attended daily Mass, said the rosary daily after supper and went to confession weekly. She was deeply attracted to the spirituality of the East and the repetition of the Jesus prayer was asking her a part of her spiritual discipline. It was her life in Christ that gave rise to her love for the poor and her political activism was a fruit of her deep piety and immersion in the sacred mysteries. She feel asleep in the Lord and passed onto her eternal reward in 1980 on the last day of the Church year in the Latin calendar.

Two of New York’s prelates Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Dolan have both advanced the cause of Dorothy’s canonization and seen in her writings a prefigurement of the social teaching of Blessed John Paul the Great. More recently in November 2012 the United States Bishops Conference unanimously voted to proceed with her cause for canonization after Cardinal Timothy Dolan consulted with them. View the homily below given by Cardinal Dolan at a Vespers liturgy in New York.