News / USA

    Activist Catholic Dorothy Day Considered for Sainthood

    US bishops hope to have Dorothy Day, who died in 1980, declared a saint. (Marquette University Archives)
    US bishops hope to have Dorothy Day, who died in 1980, declared a saint. (Marquette University Archives)
    Adam Phillips
    Dorothy Day is not a familiar name in the United States or around the world.

    However, for about half of the 20th century, her name was synonymous with orthodox Catholic teachings on social justice and morality. U.S. bishops hope to have Day, who died in 1980, canonized.

    Some Catholics see the bid to declare Day a saint as a political move to reconcile the conservative and liberal wings of the American Catholic Church.

    Day did not always fit the common stereotype of a Catholic saint. In a 1973 interview, she offered a no-nonsense rationale for feeding the poor that is earthy, not ethereal.   

    “If your brother is hungry you feed him," she said. "You don’t meet him at the door and say ‘be thou filled’ or wait a couple of weeks and you’ll get a welfare check. You sit him down.”
    Dorothy Day at a Catholic Workers' communal farm in Easton, Pennsylvania, ca. 1938. (Marquette University Archives)Dorothy Day at a Catholic Workers' communal farm in Easton, Pennsylvania, ca. 1938. (Marquette University Archives)
    x
    Dorothy Day at a Catholic Workers' communal farm in Easton, Pennsylvania, ca. 1938. (Marquette University Archives)
    Dorothy Day at a Catholic Workers' communal farm in Easton, Pennsylvania, ca. 1938. (Marquette University Archives)

    Day was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1897 to a middle class Protestant family that rarely attended church. She became radicalized at an early age, says biographer Jim O’Grady, author of "Dorothy Day: With Love for the Poor."   ​

    “When she moved to New York in her late teens, she was around a lot of radical agitators. She wrote her left-wing periodicals. She was a friend of the labor movement and anti-war groups," O'Grady says. "She interviewed Trotsky when he passed through New York City. She did some heavy drinking with Eugene O’Neill in a saloon in Greenwich Village and at some point she had an abortion and a divorce. So that was her youth.”  

    In "The Long Loneliness," Day’s 1952 autobiography, she recounts a deep spiritual crisis, followed by a religious awakening which climaxed with the 1926 birth of her daughter, Tamar, who Day had baptized.

    "The way she described it, she was so suffused with gratitude that she turned to God," O'Grady says. "She herself was baptized as a Catholic and she embarked on this lifelong journey of learning what that was. But she never stopped having this deep fervor for issues of social justice."

    In 1933, during the Depression, Day and a fellow activist began publishing a newspaper called The Catholic Worker. Its headquarters in a poor New York neighborhood soon grew into a place where the homeless could always find shelter and the hungry could get a meal.
    Dorothy Day with her grandchildren in 1958. (Marquette University Archives)Dorothy Day with her grandchildren in 1958. (Marquette University Archives)
    x
    Dorothy Day with her grandchildren in 1958. (Marquette University Archives)
    Dorothy Day with her grandchildren in 1958. (Marquette University Archives)

    The movement spread. Today there are well over 100 Catholic Worker affiliates worldwide. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, says it is these works of mercy which underlie efforts to canonize Day.

    “Dorothy Day certainly was an extraordinary person who lived in voluntary poverty and spent her whole life serving the poor and that certainly that characterizes a saint," she says, "somebody who could be so selfless in their giving of themselves to others.”

    However, Day often took positions which were at odds with the mainstream Catholic hierarchy. She advocated for the redistribution of wealth, for example, and fought for workers' rights. She was a pacifist, even during World War II, which nearly doomed The Catholic Worker.

    Walsh acknowledges Day's priorities did not always coincide with those of church leaders.

    “She was in the trenches," Walsh says. "She didn’t see her role in life as trying to lobby bishops, for example. She never craved the limelight in any way.”

    Tom Cornell, who worked with Day for decades at The Catholic Worker, is certain she was a saint. He also believes efforts to canonize her now could be an effort by top church officials to bridge American Catholicism’s conservative and liberal wings.

    He notes that some sainthood advocates emphasize only her path from leftist youth to Catholic convert, not her tireless work to organize unions, end war, and build housing and soup kitchens.
     
    “I wouldn’t say I’m suspicious," Cornell says, "but The Catholic Worker gets a little upset when we see… no mention of the reason why these are needed [which is] because of the failure of our social and economic system, the failure of capitalism, the feeding on war, and making war necessary.”

    Before Day can be declared a saint, there must be two proven miracles attributed to her intercession. It’s a bureaucratic process than can take decades to complete. Meanwhile, The Catholic Worker continues to publish.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: NVO from: USA
    December 11, 2012 10:33 AM
    Another catholic sham!!! You CANNOT make someone a saint. You ARE a saint if you believe, accept, invite what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross. Catholic beliefs and practices open up a host of theological problems, a so called church that should be avoided like the plague. Only duped people would believe that some boney fingered priest can make you a saint. SHAM!!!!!
    In Response

    by: Tim from: The Philippines
    January 04, 2013 1:14 PM
    The Catholic Church does not make people saints by canonizing them, they are merely saying that a particular person is already one (canonization = to include in the list); Canonization is simply a declaration that someone is in heaven already. And yes, the Church teaches that insofar as one is a Christian, he can be called a saint (hence, the Catholic idea of the Communion of Saints), but the Church reserves the title of "Saint" to those who cannot NOT become saints anymore; that is, those who are in heaven already.

    Deo Gratias

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora