Dorothy Day: Saint of Holy Irony Print
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 13 May 2008 12:56

Speaking of lay apostolate, May 1 was the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Worker movement by 36 year old Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. (Dorothy is shows above reading to her daughter Tamar, who just died earlier this year.) Whispers quotes a weekend Washington Post article at some length:

"It was on May 1, 1933, when Dorothy Day, then 36, went to a Communist Party rally in New York's Union Square. She worked the Depression-era crowd, handing out her eight-page newspaper, the Catholic Worker. Included with articles about poverty, unemployment and injustice was Day's editorial laying out the paper's mission: " . . . For those who are huddling in shelters trying to escape the rain. For those who think that there is no hope for the future, no recognition of their plight -- this little paper is addressed. It is printed to call their attention to the fact the Catholic Church has a social program, to let them know that there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare."


Three years after the first issue of the Catholic Worker newspaper, circulation rose from 2,500 copies to more than 150,000. Still eight pages published monthly, now with a circulation of 25,000, it is the country's only paper that can rightly claim that it has held to one editorial line, one typographical layout and one price: a penny a copy.

In her column, "On Pilgrimage," Day ranged from reportage on the doings at the Worker's soup and bread lines to criticism of the church hierarchy. In the 1960s, when a Catholic cardinal went to the White House for a prayer service with Richard Nixon and when another cardinal was in Vietnam blessing U.S. warplanes, Day unloaded: "What a confusion we have gotten into when Christian prelates sprinkle holy water on scrap metal to be used for obliteration bombing and name bombers for the Holy Innocents, for Our Lady of Mercy; who bless a man about to press a button which releases death to 50,000 human beings, including little babies, children, the sick, the aged . . ."...

During the next 50 years, she would attend daily Mass, pray the monastic hours, feed and house uncounted thousands of jobless and homeless, write eight books, be hounded by the FBI, bond with labor unions, be imprisoned on civil disobedience charges (so often that a New York jail had a "Dorothy Day suite"), get the paper out, be uncompromising in her commitment to nonviolence and be invited by Eunice Kennedy Shriver to spend time in Hyannisport to take a break from all the frenzy....

After Day died Nov. 29, 1980, no Catholic bishop attended her Requiem Mass. Years later, when she was not around to rebuke churchmen for their just-war theories, it was safe to call on the Vatican to create Saint Dorothy. One promoter for sainthood was Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, in front of whose St. Patrick's Cathedral Day and fellow Catholic Workers had often protested the Vietnam War that the cardinal, as the U.S. church's military vicar, backed.

If Day ever is canonized, it might be as the patron saint of holy irony.

And of course, Catholic Worker houses continue the same ministry today. One such ministry is the Catholic Worker houses of Boise, founded by Ellen Piper, who was launched into ministry with the homeless by discerning her charisms through the Called & Gifted process. 8 years later, she has started a day shelter for the homeless and two houses - men and women's - to provide transitional housing for the homeless in Boise.

Dorothy is a giant figure in the 20th century but it helps to understand her life and impact in the context of the whole development of the lay apostolate.

As Rocco has noted, her dairies, which were sealed for 25 years after her death in 1980, have just been published: I simply adore these anecdotes:

Like most holy people, she often fell short of her ideals. We know this because she herself calls attention to her faults - her impatience, her capacity for anger and self-righteousness. "Thinking gloomily of the sins and shortcomings of others," she writes, "it suddenly came to me to remember my own offences, just as heinous as those of others. If I concern myself with my own sins and lament them, if I remember my own failures and lapses, I will not be resentful of others. This was most cheering and lifted the load of gloom from my mind. It makes one unhappy to judge people and happy to love them."...

In response to the insecurity, the sorrows, and drudgery of life among the "insulted and injured", she tried always to remember "the duty of delight": "I was thinking how, as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on earth, the suffering, the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy which goes with loving."

"it makes one unhappy to judge people and happy to love them.""

Pray for us, Servant of God, Dorothy Day.