Text Size

Search Articles

More By This Author

More From This Category

Article Information

Dorothy Day.

By Susan Hamel in All Sorts

she represents a powerful inspiration for anyone who is brave enough to take on church and government to shelter the Holy Family.

Dorothy Day
I found this beautiful icon a few days ago, drawn by Kelly Latimore, showing one of my favorite powerful women, Dorothy Day.
“What we would like to do is change the world--make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute--the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words--we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. –Dorothy Day (1897-1980)
Many of you may not be familiar with one of the people whose faith and good works are a constant source of inspiration for me. Dorothy Day was an American Catholic, Christian radical, journalist, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, mother and grandmother, commune founder and social activist. She was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. After a bohemian youth spent in travel and love affairs she was baptized as a Catholic in 1927 and dedicated her life to social justice. She and Peter Maurin created the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933, which was sold for 1 cent on the streets of Brooklyn.
Day said the word "Worker" in the paper's title referred to "those who worked with hand or brain, those who did physical, mental, or spiritual work. But we thought primarily of the poor, the dispossessed, the exploited." The Catholic Worker paper became sufficiently radical that the Archdiocese ordered Day to cease publication or remove the word Catholic from her publication name. She refused and the paper continues to this day, still priced at 1 cent.
The Catholic Worker movement grew up around the paper. Dorothy opened the first Catholic Worker house in 1934, to house the many homeless people who had been drawn to the cause in the aftermath of the Great Depression. In the years that followed she would house and feed many thousands of dispossessed and poverty-stricken men, women and children. Later the Worker movement bought ramshackle farms to house families, most without running water or electricity. An early forerunner of the back-to-the- land movement, Dorothy was sure these farms would allow the poor to become self-sufficient. Though she poured her heart and soul into these farm communes they were ultimately unsuccessful. Dorothy could be judgmental and unrealistic at times, as her daughter Tamar noted: “To her it was like living off the fat of the land, and how happy it all was.” She did not understand or appreciate the difficulties of the freezing winters in unheated houses in upstate New York and Vermont.
And yet Dorothy Day remains for me one of the exemplary women of the 20th Century, one who was willing to put everything on the line for the poor and destitute. She may well one day be canonized, as her cause has been opened by the Catholic Church. But sainted or not, she represents a powerful inspiration for anyone who is brave enough to take on church and government to shelter the Holy Family.
To find out more: “Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty” by Kate Hennessy.

By Susan Hamel