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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs