In his 2015 speech to Congress, Pope Francis included Dorothy Day among his list of four “great Americans” who offer a “new way of seeing and interpreting reality.” Among those in the audience, there were surely some who remembered that she had been called other things: Un-American, Communist, heretic. Now, with her cause for canonization in process, she may one day be called a saint. If so, she will be a saint with an unusual backstory, having spent her youth among Communists and other radicals. An unhappy love affair ended tragically with an abortion.
And yet, following the later birth of a daughter, she underwent a dramatic conversion and became Catholic. She felt that everything in her past had led her to this leap, including the influence of her radical comrades with their passion for justice and love for the poor. She prayed to connect these convictions with her new faith and found an answer through Peter Maurin, a French “peasant-philosopher,” who inspired her to launch the Catholic Worker movement in 1933. In this movement she combined the works of mercy with a critique of the values and systems that create so much misery. Embracing voluntary poverty, she was often arrested in protests for peace, while pointing toward a new world based on solidarity, mercy, and community. Her life was sustained by prayer, devotion to the saints, and the practice of what she called “the duty of delight.” Pointing toward a new model of holiness for our time, Dorothy Day died on November 29, 1980.
“We must cry out against injustice or by our silence consent to it. If we keep silent, the very stones of the street will cry out.” —Servant of God Dorothy Day