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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid