The National Catholic Review
Why I support the canonization of Dorothy Day

Cardinal John O’Connor announced in 2000 that the Vatican had accepted his petition to initiate the cause for the beatification and canonization of Dorothy Day. With this approval, she received the title Servant of God. Progress on her cause continued under Cardinal Edward Egan, who established the Dorothy Day Guild, and even more under Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Along with soliciting support from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he has recently taken a number of steps to advance the process, including the initiative of personally commending her life and writings to Pope Francis.

I have supported this cause. If I take the opportunity now to explain my reasons, it is not to change the minds of those who believe Dorothy Day is unworthy to be called a saint. There are some, for instance, who believe that she was a heretic, a secret Communist or, in the words of the state senator from Virginia who felt compelled to warn the pope, a woman of “loathsome character.” Those for whom I write are instead the many deep admirers and even followers of Dorothy Day who have no doubts about her holiness but are skeptical or suspicious of the process of canonization. Some worry that in making Dorothy Day a saint the church will turn her into a pious cutout—shorn of her prophetic and radical edges—or use her to promote some agenda that was not her own. Others question the investment of resources that might better be used for the poor. Still others feel that the whole process violates her own wishes; after all, didn’t she famously say, “Don’t call me a saint...”?

I can identify with such concerns, some of which I have heard from friends and people I respect. Before addressing them, I would begin by reflecting on what saints meant to Dorothy and on what, I think, the process of saint-making means for the church.

Drawing Out Love

It would be hard to exaggerate the role that saints played in the life of Dorothy Day and the origins of the Catholic Worker. Peter Maurin told her that the best way to study Catholic history was through the saints—those who most faithfully embodied the spirit of Christ. Inspired by Peter Maurin and her reading of lives of the saints, Dorothy was emboldened to launch the Catholic Worker with the means at hand, not waiting for funding or any official approval. Constantly she invoked the saints as patrons and intercessors, “picketing” before St. Joseph when funds ran dry, calling on the assistance of the Blessed Mother in coping with the problems in her Catholic Worker family. The saints cropped up constantly in her speech and writings, almost as if they were personal acquaintances: the “perfect joy of St. Francis”; the exuberance of St. Teresa, who said, “I am so grateful a person that I can be bribed with a sardine”; the mystical ardor of St. John of the Cross, who said, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.”

In the early years of The Catholic Worker, the newspaper was largely illustrated with Ade Bethune’s images of the saints. This was not just for pious decoration. Depicted in modern dress, engaged in the works of mercy, these figures literally illustrated what the editors were trying to communicate through words and actions. The saints, as Dorothy spoke of them, were our friends and companions, examples of the Gospel in action. She devoted many years to writing a biography of her favorite saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, exulting in the incredible speed with which the Little Flower was canonized—a sign that she was truly “the people’s saint.”

In discussing the saints, Dorothy always acknowledged their humanity, their capacity for discouragement and sorrow, their mistakes and failures, along with their courage and faithfulness. There is no doubt she wished to take them off their pedestals, to show them as human beings who nevertheless represented in their time the ideals and spirit of the Gospel.

She was quite aware of the dangers of sentimental hagiography—the “pious pap” that makes saints seem somehow less than fully human. She quoted a text about the eating habits of the saints, which read, “Blessed de Montfort sometimes shed tears and sobbed bitterly when sitting at table to eat.” To this, she commented, “No wonder no one wants to be a saint.”

She felt it was important that we tell the stories of “saints as they really were, as they affected the lives of their times.” But it was also important to underscore their radical challenge: how St. Catherine of Siena confronted the pope; how St. Benedict promoted the spirit of peace; how St. Francis met with the sultan in a mission of reconciliation.

When Gordon Zahn wrote about his discouragement with the bishops and their failure to address the Vietnam War, she wrote: “In all history popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them. It is the saints that keep appearing all thru [sic] history who keep things going.”

Above all, Dorothy believed that the canonized saints were those who reminded us of our true vocation. “We are all called to be saints,” she wrote, “and we might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name. We might also get used to recognizing the fact that there is some of the saint in all of us. Inasmuch as we are growing, putting off the old man and putting on Christ, there is some of the saint, the holy, the divine right there.” She acknowledged, sadly, that most people nowadays, “if they were asked, would say diffidently that they do not profess to be saints, indeed they do not want to be saints. And yet the saint is the holy man, the ‘whole man,’ the integrated man. We all wish to be that.”

One of the things that attracted her to St. Thérèse was that in her Little Way she showed a path of holiness available to all people and in all circumstances. Dorothy—who was born the same year that Thérèse died—wished to make known the social implications of the Little Way: “The significance of our smallest acts! The significance of the little things we leave undone! The protests we do not make, the stands we do not take, we who are living in the world.”

A New Kind of Saint

And what of the meaning of saints for the church? It is important to recognize that in canonizing a saint, the church is not bestowing a kind of posthumous “honor.” Canonization has no impact or import for the saint herself. Canonization is really a gift the church makes to itself. Through recognition of certain individuals—a minuscule number compared to all those holy men and women known to God—the church is challenged to enlarge its understanding of the Gospel, to provide new models that people can relate to, examples who met the challenge of discipleship in their own time and thus inspire us to do the same.

But as Simone Weil said, it is not nearly enough to be a saint; “We must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment.” Early in her life, Dorothy recognized the need for a new kind of saint. Even as a child she noted how moved she was by the stories of saints who cared for the poor, the sick, the leper. But another question arose in her mind: “Why was so much done in remedying the evil instead of avoiding it in the first place?... Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves but to do away with slavery?” It was a question to be answered with her own life.

In 1932, as she uttered her fateful prayer at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Dorothy sought an answer about how to integrate her faith and her commitment to justice and the cause of the oppressed. She prayed to make a synthesis of “body and soul, this world and the next.” In effect she was seeking a model for how to minister to the slaves while also working to do away with slavery. Many saints had performed the works of mercy and poured themselves out in charity. By combining her work for justice with the practice of charity, Dorothy made an enormous gift to the church. No one coming afterward would have to imagine what such a saint might look like.

But there are other gifts. By far the overwhelming majority of saints, both in history and in recent times, have been priests and members of religious orders. Of the 1,000 or so saints beatified or canonized under Pope John Paul II the majority—apart from martyrs—were founders or members of religious orders. Arguably, this reinforces the stereotypical notion that religious life is a prerequisite for holiness.

Dorothy, in her deeply disciplined life of prayer and participation in the sacramental life of the church, her embrace of voluntary poverty, and her spirit of self-sacrifice and loving service, resembles many saints who went before. Yet as a layperson, as a woman, as an unmarried mother, as the founder and leader of a lay movement that has always operated without any official authorization from the church, as the publisher of a newspaper that presumed to take social positions far in advance of the magisterium of her time, Dorothy Day represents quite an unusual—and significant—candidate for canonization.

In her ecumenism, her commitment to liturgical renewal, her affirmation of religious freedom and the rights of conscience, her resistance to racism and anti-Semitism, and her prophetic implementation of the church’s “preferential option for the poor,” she anticipated so many themes of the Second Vatican Council and the postconciliar church. And if there is now real thought about her canonization, it is in part a reflection of how far the church has traveled in catching up with her witness. That is something to celebrate.

But there is more. Dorothy was inspired by the Gospel and the lives of the saints to respond to the needs of her day—both the needs that everyone could recognize (the Great Depression) but also the needs that were overlooked by almost everyone else. Dorothy, more than anyone, helped the church recover the forgotten peace message of Jesus. She confronted war and violence in all its forms—not just in words but in prophetic actions. In the purity of her vision and by her courageous witness she continues to walk ahead, beckoning the church to follow.

The Symbolism of Sainthood

There are inevitably symbolic or, if you will, political considerations associated with the making of saints. There is always the question, what lesson or message does the church wish to impart through this canonization? The belated recognition of Oscar Romero as a genuine martyr, and not just a pious churchman, is a significant example. In naming Romero a martyr who died because of “hatred of the faith,” the church acknowledges that he did not die for getting mixed up in politics, as his ecclesial critics charged, but because he faithfully followed the Gospel. Perhaps it is meaningful that this pronouncement has awaited the pontificate of Pope Francis. In this context, Romero walks ahead, beckoning us to fulfill the pope’s vision of a church that is “poor and for the poor.”

By the same token, I believe this particular ecclesial season provides a very special context for promoting the canonization of Dorothy Day. Pope Francis, it seems to me, is the fulfillment of Dorothy’s dreams. If she had let her imagination run free, she might have conceived of a pope who took his name from St. Francis, who set out to renew the church in the image of Jesus, promoting the centrality of mercy, reconciliation and solidarity with those on the margins. So often she criticized ecclesial trappings of power and privilege. How she would have delighted in Francis’ gestures of humility, his call for shepherds “who have the smell of the sheep,” his washing the feet of prisoners (including women and Muslims), his tears on the island of Lampedusa as he contemplated the deaths of nameless immigrants and lambasted the “culture of indifference.” With her love for the Cuban people, how she would have rejoiced in his role in overcoming decades of intransigent enmity between the U.S. and Cuban governments. How, on the eve of an imminent war with Syria, she would have eagerly accompanied him in his vigil for peace. How moved she would be to learn of his deep friendship with a Jewish rabbi, his love for opera and Dostoevsky, and his exhortation to spread the “joy of the Gospel.”

Some have suggested that the new atmosphere under Pope Francis has put wind in the sails of Dorothy’s canonization. But I would put it another way. I think the cause of Dorothy’s canonization helps put wind in the sails of the pope’s agenda. Support for her cause, in this context, means more than keeping her memory alive. It contributes to the ongoing program of renewal of the church—not for its own sake but for the sake of a wounded world.

What of the concerns that canonization will cause her witness to be watered down and homogenized? I think her full story—so inseparable from her “message”—is clear and widely available. To be sure, there has at times been a tendency on the part of some to put all too much emphasis on her abortion, to make that experience a central feature in the narrative of her journey from “sinner to saint.” In fact, as we know, the driving force of Dorothy’s conversion was not shame over her sins but gratitude for God’s grace. The turning point in her story was not her abortion but the experience of becoming pregnant and giving birth. In the end, I believe that canonization is the best insurance that her story and the distinctive features of her holiness will be remembered—not just in our time but far from now in the future. Just as the beatification of Franz Jägerstätter lifts up the memory of his “solitary witness,” so I believe the canonization process for Dorothy Day will spread the story of her going to jail to protest civil defense drills and the blasphemy of all preparations for nuclear war. It will move her witness from the margins to the center of the church’s memory.

The Making of a Legend

Of course, we regularly witness the domestication of radical prophets. Francis of Assisi becomes the patron saint of bird baths. Martin Luther King Jr. is universally remembered for his “dream” of a post-racial America—but not for his critique of militarism and capitalism. Dorothy Day is hardly exempt from this danger. Even while she lived, Dorothy had to confront pious legend-making. She upbraided Catherine de Hueck Doherty for promoting the myth that she shared her bed with a syphilitic homeless woman. (Dorothy retorted, “I can’t even sleep with my daughter, she wiggles too much!”) She was exasperated with people who asked if she bore the stigmata or enjoyed visions. (“Just visions of dirty dishes and unpaid bills!”) With or without canonization, some people will always prefer the myth. The answer, I think, is not to reject her canonization, but to assume the task of proclaiming her story with all its radical edges, making sure that nothing of her humanity is discarded.

But didn’t Dorothy say, “Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed so easily”? I am astonished that so many people—even those who would be hard-pressed to come up with another quote—can recite those words (though their exact source is unclear). A real saint could hardly have said otherwise. But in Dorothy’s case, this was more than humility. She worried that people would put her up on a pedestal, that they would believe her to be without faults, imagining that if she performed seemingly difficult things, it was because they were not really difficult for her—she, after all, being a saint. She felt this was a way for people to dismiss her witness and let themselves off the hook. She didn’t believe she was better than other people. She didn’t believe people should set out to imitate her. They should look to Christ as their model. All Christians were called to “put off the old person and put on Christ,” to conform their lives to the pattern of the Gospel, to respond to their own call to holiness—whatever form that might take.

I once heard her say, “When they call you a saint, it means basically that you are not to be taken seriously.” But when Dorothy used the word saint, she certainly wasn’t indicating someone to be dismissed easily; on the contrary, a saint was someone to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Still, there is a natural cynicism that arises in relation to this process, with all its elaborate bureaucracy, protocol and, yes, expense. Ken Woodward, in Making Saints, acknowledged this issue in his chapter on Dorothy Day. Whereas the usual question with regard to a potential saint is whether the candidate is worthy of the process, in the case of Dorothy Day there is a suspicion that the process is not worthy of her. Perhaps, some might say, it is better that she remain a “people’s saint”—not an officially canonized figure.

Before initiating her cause, Cardinal O’Connor conducted a series of conversations with people who knew her (sadly, many of them no longer with us). I was privileged to be part of those discussions. I was deeply moved by Cardinal O’Connor’s humility in discussing his admiration for a woman he had never met. He took the discussion very seriously, noting that if God meant for Dorothy to be called a saint, he could not live with himself if he had stood in the way. But at the same time he made it clear what it meant if we proceeded: canonization, he noted, is a “process of the church.” If we weren’t comfortable with that, he said, there was no point in going forward. Those present, who included many of Dorothy’s close friends and associates, listened to what he said; none of us raised an objection.

Since then it has become clearer that there are in fact significant expenses involved in pursuing the lengthy process of canonization—legal fees, the costs of official transcripts and such. The Archdiocese of New York has made a sizeable contribution; other funds will be raised by the Dorothy Day Guild, without any impact on contributions intended for the Catholic Worker.

We may stand aloof from her canonization on the grounds that she is “too good” for this process. But if we do, we should probably recognize that this is not an attitude Dorothy would be inclined to share. She certainly challenged and criticized the church for its failings. It was, as she liked to quote Romano Guardini, “the cross on which Christ was crucified.” But for her the church was the mystical body of Christ, of which she was also a member. She had enough knowledge of her own sins and failings to include herself among all those called to penance and conversion.

The story of Dorothy is becoming known around the world. In the United States she is undoubtedly more widely known and respected than at any time since her death, or even in her lifetime. In recent years stories about her have appeared in almost every Catholic magazine, and many conferences have focused on her thought. Some may worry that Dorothy is being appropriated by elements in the church that do not share all her radical positions. It became clear to me long ago that Dorothy did not “belong” just to the Catholic peace movement, any more than she belongs solely to the Catholic Worker movement. I frankly welcome the occasion she offers to unite disparate and sometimes polarized elements in the church.

But ultimately the question of Dorothy’s canonization is not about drawing greater attention to her, but whether, through her witness, more attention will be drawn to Jesus and more people will be inspired to comprehend and joyfully embrace his message of radical love. I believe the answer is yes. That is why I support her canonization.

Robert Ellsberg is the editor in chief and publisher of Orbis Books. From 1976 to 1978 he was the managing editor of The Catholic Worker, where he served alongside Dorothy Day. This article is adapted from an article in the May 2015 issue of The Catholic Worker.


Min Bee | 6/4/2015 - 11:36am

Daniel Ellsberg quotes Day's seminal question, "Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves but to do away with slavery?'”

Day asked this twice--in her 1938 "From Union Square to Rome," (2006, p. 50) and her 1952 "The Long Loneliness," (1997, p. 45).

Why did she address this question to Christ's followers and not to Christ himself? Unlike some of Christ's Jewish contemporaries, Day fails to ask, "Where was the Messiah to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves but to do away with slavery?'”

Beth Cioffoletti | 5/5/2015 - 6:34pm

"Why did she address this question to Christ's followers and not to Christ himself?"

I don't think that Dorothy is addressing the followers of Christ with this question. Being able to name and confront systemic injustice and evil takes a great deal of integrity and courage (MLK comes to mind), and there are not a lot of "saints" to show the way. Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Or Blessed Franz Jägerstätter. It means going against the tide. Think Jesus.

As Mr. Ellsberg explains above, Dorothy took saints very seriously.

Beth Cioffoletti | 5/4/2015 - 7:21am

Min Bee, are you familiar with Catholic Social Teachings? It "is central to our faith, with roots in the Hebrew prophets who announced God's special love for the poor and called God's people to a covenant of love and justice. This teaching is founded on the life and words of Jesus Christ, who came "to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . liberty to captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind"(Lk 4:18-19), and who identified himself with "the least of these," the hungry and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:45)." - the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dorothy Day's life, like that call of the Hebrew prophets, is a challenge to the status quo, the prevailing social order. I am reading now The Great Reformer, Austen Ivereigh's fine biography of Pope Francis. It is fascinating to see how Bergoglio is able to implement Catholic Social Teaching - a compassion for the working people and love and care for the poor - against both the liberal and conservative powers of Argentina. He and Dorothy are soul mates. I have no doubt but that Francis will challenge US Congress when he visits in September.

By the way, it is a policy of America magazine that real names be used when commenting here.

Denis Jackson | 4/29/2015 - 1:03pm

This is a most interesting article and comments.
I would just like to make a comment about the lay communities that follow on from such holy individuals. Madonna House came from Catherine de Hueck Doherty and would appear to be flourishing. The Foyer de Charite flowed from the mystic french woman of God : Marthe Robin, and is flourishing spiritually. But I have always had doubts about the community of The Catholic Worker Movement which came from Dorothy Day. One hears of a certain unease about this lay movement.

Min Bee | 5/2/2015 - 11:42am

When she was alive, Day would not publish articles that supported the homosexual lifestyle, although practicing homosexuals such as Allen Ginsberg did visit the Catholic Worker.

Her movement now includes a "Catholic" Worker House in Toronto called Radish House, which is self-described on the Catholic Worker website as follows:

"The Radish House is committed to acts of resistance against oppression. We specifically engage with trans and queer communities and discern the ways in which all forms of oppression intersect and affect those who are most marginalized within our churches and our communities. As a new house, we are still in the process of discernment but recognize that in order to serve the communities we want to serve, we feel this whole process should be done in community. We also recognize that the philosophy and mission work of our house will be dynamic and ever-changing and we want to start now, getting feedback from the community as we go along hopefully allowing everyone to grow.
"The house is currently full but if you are a Trans or Queer person or ally in need of temporary accommodation contact us. Please note that there are animals (cat and dog) in the house as well as children." (

What would be the implications of canonizing Dorothy Day when the movement inspired by her includes such a house? Dorothy Day was also personally opposed to abortion (she never participated in a pro-life march or event). But as Roslie Riegle Troester has documented in "Voices from the Catholic Worker" (1993), "Catholic" Workers are divided on the issue of abortion (p. 545-550) as well as on homosexuality (pp. 525-544).

Although current Catholic Workers differ with Day on these two issues, they seem to conform to Day's core value of anarchy. Thus, "Anyone can start a Catholic Worker house and there are many ways to do it. You do not need permission to call yourself a Catholic Worker" ( Conformity to Catholic doctrine is not required, so houses and workers who oppose the teachings of the Church are "Catholic" Workers in good standing.

To switch to another matter: The letter to Pope Benedict about Day is available at

Kate Ridge | 4/29/2015 - 12:02pm

In reaching out to a friend who lived with Dorothy for many years, he commented, "why not respect Dorothy's to not be canonized!" Having been a Catholic Worker, having met Dorothy, I would have to agree with that comment whole-heartedly!

Gene Roman | 4/27/2015 - 6:34pm

Mr. Ellsberg has forced me to rethink my position on DD's canonization. As the self-appointed chairman of the DD Fan Club, Brooklyn chapter, I doubted the sincerity of the Catholic episcopacy to embrace 'our girl' officially in death rather than life. All of my concerns are moot because even if posterity treats us harshly, 'we won't hear a thing, will be long gone." (Benjamin Franklin the the musical 1776).

Beth Cioffoletti | 4/26/2015 - 9:32am

Like others I have been on the fence about Dorothy's sainthood. But with this article you've convinced me, Mr. Ellsberg. As you say, if God means for Dorothy to be canonized, she will be God's special gift to the Church.

Along with Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum, she is a woman of the 20th century who has conveyed to me an authentic spiritual vision and life. A gift indeed.

Carol Byrne | 4/25/2015 - 2:35pm

Wes claims that Day refused to “bow to authority” in the “Spirit of Christ” and that all her actions were “shrouded in love.” Ironically, while she appealed to the Gospels and the early Christians to support her law breaking, it was the scrupulously law-abiding example of the early Christians which testifies against her. For three centuries, they lived under pagan Emperors who at times persecuted Christians and pursued a ruthlessly expansionist policy by force of arms. Nevertheless, as Pope Leo XIII remarked:

Christians at that period were not only in the habit of obeying the laws, but in every office they of their own accord did more, and more perfectly, than they were required to do by the laws…they were in the sight of all men exemplary in their bearing according to the laws. (Diuturnum, #19)

Chapter 11 of my book gives details of Day’s wildly antinomian spirit – the antithesis of the Spirit of Christ. Day failed to consider that law breaking is not a justified method of political opposition, even if she raised it to the level of theological doctrine. There is nothing in Scripture or in the Natural Law remotely similar to Day’s arguments for civil disobedience. The instructions of Saints Peter and Paul to submit to the government of the day did not admit of a conscience clause for absolute Pacifism. Christian citizens were duty bound to “be subject for conscience sake” (Rom. 13:5) and to pay their taxes to the government: “Render therefore to all men their dues. Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom” (Rom. 13:7), regardless of whether the ruler was pagan, non-Pacifist or even hostile to Christianity.

But however hard Day tried to redefine her “anarchism” or cloak it in euphemisms such as Pacifism, Personalism or the Works of Mercy, the fact remains that basically she followed her own feelings and impulses. What stands out most strikingly is that she felt she needed no guidelines and that the Church’s authority was not as important as her own personal sense of God’s guidance.

Where this led her was to an inflated sense of her own spiritual excellence especially in contrast with the actions of others, and to believing everything she did was right.

All the evidence shows that she did in fact rely on her own radical understanding of the Scriptures which she subjected to her own personal interpretation. What this amounts to is not fidelity to Catholic teaching but a form of religious relativism in which individual preference is the only valid standard of moral judgement.

Surely you are not arguing that subjectivism is a reliable indicator of “the truth of God”, as you put it, and that the person who expresses personal opinions should be canonized?

Wes Howard-Brook | 4/25/2015 - 8:41pm

With all due respect, your argument is absurd. The first chapters of Acts of the Apostles show the apostles in jail several times. Jesus tells his disciples that they will find themselves in court for their witness to the Gospel. That the post-NT writers were beholden to the Roman Empire's rule of law (other than the single exception of offering incense to the genius of the emperor) only proves that they did not have the clarity of purpose and commitment to the Gospel that Dorothy, and others, such as MLK, Cesar Chavez, Dan Berrigan and many others have shown is the essence of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Carol Byrne | 4/26/2015 - 2:15pm

Wes, it is not clear how Day and her associates had a commitment to the Gospel. Christ never led a riot, incited workers to revolt against their employers, organized an underground, criticized the government, or encouraged the Zealots against their Roman oppressors. He never disobeyed any law or advocated civil disobedience. Nor did He ever militate on behalf of any so-called victim of “social injustice.”

All of the Apostles understood and reiterated Christ’s teaching in this regard. So, in the light of Christian acceptance of civil laws under the direct guidance of Christ and the Apostles, the correct attitude is that the constituted government must be viewed as “ordained of God” and entitled to Christian obedience.
The people you mentioned as glorious heroes were not following the attitude of Christ regarding earthly governments. They adopted, instead, the belligerent posture of the subversive revolutionary which inevitably leads to violence and bloodshed. This is not a new attitude but an old and discredited one. It existed in the Old Testament as well as in the time of Christ and the Apostles. We read in the Gospels that the crowds preferred Barabbas the seditionist to the King of Kings. But we should remember that when they finally got the revolution they wanted, it resulted, as in all such revolutions, in a situation far worse than what existed previously.

David Lukenbill and Martin Elbe have pointed out the essential confusion which surrounds so much of Catholic Worker ideology – mixing up Communism with Catholicism, Christ’s Kingdom with political revolution. So my advice to all who follow the CWM, is to avoid taking the route of Barabbas, instead of the way of Christ.

Wes Howard-Brook | 4/26/2015 - 8:26pm

So many of your statements, Carol, are just plain false.

1. Of course Jesus never led a "riot." Neither did Dorothy.
2. Jesus absolutely DID encourage workers to revolt against their employers. See Luke 16.
3. Of course Jesus organized an underground. Read Mark 13-14.
4. Of course Jesus criticized the government, both the Sanhedrin and, many times, the Roman government (compare his word on "peace" in John 16 with the Pax Romana).
5. Of course Jesus disobeyed laws: the sabbath, the rules against touching lepers or bleeding people and many others.
6. Of course he advocated and practiced civil disobedience. Why do you think he was killed? How would you describe the temple-clearing incident in all four gospels.
7. Of course the apostles understood his teachings: that's why they ended up regularly in jail and/or executed as dissidents.

I don't know what ax you're trying to grind here, but Dorothy exemplified BOTH faithfulness to the Gospel AND to the Catholic Church in ways that few ever have. I am proud and honored to anticipate her sainthood.

Martin Eble | 4/26/2015 - 9:21pm

2 - The parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16 is not a call by Jesus for workers to revolt against their employers. It shows how a man can take care of himself by ingratiating with others.

3- Mark 13:14 describes the end days.

4 - The Sanhedrin was not a government. It was a court. Jesus did not criticize the Roman government, which is why Pilate could not find grounds for a death sentence.

5 - Jesus was an observant Jew.

6 - He neither advocated nor practiced civil disobedience. He submitted to the Temple guards and to the Roman procurator.

Your confusion hardly constitutes a sterling endorsement of the soundness of your evaluation of Dorothy Day.

Wes Howard-Brook | 4/27/2015 - 1:19am

I am not the slightest bit confused. If you check, you would find that I am a professor of Bible and theology at a Jesuit University, that has a dorm named for Dorothy. I am also the author or so-author of six books on Scripture. I won't argue the exegesis with you here. This simply shows that people can dismiss people they don't like for any reason or no good reason at all. Peace to you all. I will continue to teach my course on the Catholic Worker Movement and celebrate the great gift that Dorothy and the CW Movement have been to the entire church and world.

Martin Eble | 4/27/2015 - 6:43am

If the exegesis you put on the passages cited is any indication of what you publish, I rest my case.

Yes, if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Wes Howard-Brook | 4/27/2015 - 1:10pm

I have no idea what your credentials are, but my last book got the Catholic Press Association "First Place in Scripture" award.

It is easy to throw ungrounded potshots that degrade others. It's another to offer a positive contribution to learning and faithful discipleship. "America" deserves better than cheap shots from the sidelines.

Martin Eble | 4/27/2015 - 2:12pm

Getting the first place in scripture for “Come Out, My People!: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond” during the 2011 Catholic Press Association Awards isn’t quite as impressive as recognition by scriptural scholars. But congratulations.

As the author of “your argument is absurd”, “your statements, Carol, are just plain false”, and so on I do not see how you can complain about “ungrounded potshots that degrade others”, but then I have not won a Catholic Press Association Award.

I actually took the time and trouble earlier today to try to find something you wrote. Apparently your books are not selling in the millions. I did find a friend who has a couple of them in his bookshelf and they will be posted to me later today. His assessment was something along the lines of “he has rewritten the Gospels to create Jesus the anti-imperialist”, which a quick scan of some on-line reviews seemed to confirm. I will actually take the time to read what you had to say when the texts arrive.

Returning to the topic, “Jesus absolutely DID encourage workers to revolt against their employers. See Luke 16", “Jesus criticized the government”, “he advocated and practiced civil disobedience”, and so on are not exactly mainstream exegesis, although they seem to fit a leitmotif of Jesus as the anti-imperialist. I then noted the books were published by Orbis, which tied some things together. Do any of them bear an imprimatur?

All things considered, then, I believe my critiques of 2 through 6 of your enumerated comments are well-grounded in mainline exegesis, and that - as noted above - you are hardly on a high moral ground to complain about others’ “potshots”.

I can see, though, why you might be a fan of Dorothy Day, who had her own take on Christ and the Gospels which appears to have much in common with your own.

Martin Eble | 4/26/2015 - 7:17am

The Apostles were in jail for preaching the Gospel, not for advocating the violent overthrow of the government.

It is not clarity to confuse this world with the next.

Beth Cioffoletti | 4/26/2015 - 10:03am

Dorothy went to jail many times in her life to show her solidarity with women, farmworkers, resisting nuclear weaponry -- preaching the Gospel. Advocating for "violent overthrow of the government" is not Dorothy Day. Please get to know Dorothy Day before passing judgement. Her own writings and the witness of those who knew and worked with her is all over the web.

Ms. Byrne, could you please cite one person who knew Dorothy Day personally who judges Dorothy as you do?

Carol Byrne | 4/27/2015 - 7:55am

Hi Beth, Yes, I do know several people who knew Dorothy Day personally and were unfavourably impressed by the experience. They have provided important corroborating evidence for my critique.

But since you only ask for one, there is the owner of the blog "Dorothy Day Another Way" which you will find on the Internet and which provides even more evidence against Day than is found in my book. She had met Dorothy on a number of occasions and had actually stayed on the Tivoli farm in the early 1970s while Dorothy was there. She was frankly appalled at the level of sexual immorality that raged unchecked not only at Tivoli but in all the CW houses. Most of all, she was shocked at Day's complacency and endorsement of it.

Now she understands how Tivoli was a debacle. There were no Christian standards of morality or ethical behaviour - too much debauchery, violence, theft, dissension and shirking among the "workers" - to make it work. And, because of Day's anarchist principles, she would not allow any authority structure to keep order.

This shows that Day was unwilling to insist on basic Christian values in her sphere of personal responsibility - hardly a recommendation for sainthood.

Beth Cioffoletti | 4/27/2015 - 11:33am

The only thing I could find out "About" the author of the "Dorothy Day Another Way" blog was her Google profile name "minibee", which offered no more information. Who is s/he? Is s/he willing to be contacted for more information about her experiences? Why such secrecy? I will spend some more time looking at the blog, but at first glance it looks like defensive propaganda.

I can imagine that living amongst the poor, addicted and mentally ill of our society would be a real challenge. I have always been intrigued with the way that Dorothy did not try to "fix" it with laws and rules, but rather with love.

Min Bee | 5/2/2015 - 10:57am

The information you want "about her experiences" is in the blog, which provides documentation from Day's writings for its "defensive propaganda."

Martin Eble | 4/27/2015 - 11:42am

The fact that you wish personal information is probably "Why such secrecy?".

The first item on the blog is about Patricia Jannuzzi who was attacked by actress Susan Sarandon and others for a post on her personal Facebook page. She then lost her job at 57 years of age.

Unfortunately the Internet has become a dangerous place.

The owner does provide a gmail account to email comments and questions, which should suffice anyone with honorable intentions.

Beth Cioffoletti | 4/28/2015 - 8:48am

I couldn't find an email address on that blog. Or a real name. I have left 2 comments with questions and am waiting for response.

Funny, I've had several blogs on the web since 2005, all with access to my real name, email address, etc., and I've never had any problem at all with dangerous people who were interested in who I am. In fact, I've met some wonderful people around the world who have become real friends via internet writings. My writings are as controversial as anyone's and I welcome those who disagree and challenge. Seeing things from another perspective helps to see through blind spots and the "need to be right".

My intentions are honorable. I would like to know more first hand stories from those who visited the Catholic Worker Farms and knew Dorothy and now are making it a cause to publicly discredit her. It's unusual. I have not spent enough time on the blog, but from Ms. Byrne's comments above it appears to be about the apparent chaos of the Catholic Worker movement. I understand Dorothy's spirituality to be grounded in caring for, and walking with, the poor and letting God take care of the rest. This "way" probably has a lot to with healing the insecurities of those of us who are living (and clinging to) our entitled and orderly lives. We tend to pass judgement on those less fortunate.

There is, in fact, a search for such people by a Vatican committee doing research on the life and influence of Dorothy Day. ANYONE who had contact, no matter how small or insignificant, is invited to contribute to this conversation. Ms. Byrne's work was the first that I had heard of a scholarly(?) effort to put Dorothy in the doghouse. I would like to understand the motive and validity behind this effort, and why the author of the blog is not forthcoming about who s/he is. What's the big deal?

Min Bee | 5/2/2015 - 11:11am

Beth, As for any "public attempt to discredit Dorothy Day," her own actions and writings are what praise or discredit her.

Dr. Carol Byrne did years of research on Day, and--unlike Day's biographers William D. Miller and Jim Forest--she provides citations so that readers can verify the details in her very informative book.

"Dorothy Day Another Way" presents the results of ongoing research (with citations in the text) by the author, who was a naive and idealistic college student when she met Day. (You were probably 15 years old at the time.)

It might be helpful if you were to read "Dorothy Day Another Way." Without having done so, you erroneously speculate that "This 'way' probably has a lot to with healing the insecurities of those of us who are living (and clinging to) our entitled and orderly lives. We tend to pass judgement on those less fortunate."

BTW, your comments posted on April 28 on the blog were answered on April 30,

Martin Eble | 4/26/2015 - 10:57am

Going to jail is not one of the Beatitudes, Cardinal virtues, or Theological virtues.

Wes Howard-Brook | 4/25/2015 - 11:31am

Much of what Carol says is (more or less) true, which reinforces Robert's argument that Dorothy truly embodied the Spirit of Christ, which does not bow down to "legitimate authority" but instead, confronts it with the truth of God shrouded in love.

Martin Eble | 4/26/2015 - 7:16am

Jesus never joined the Communist Party.

ed gleason | 4/26/2015 - 7:50pm

Martin?? Eble??? called me a commie on another thread.. So being in the same name calling boat with Dorothy is some grand but still in-accurate complement. Can't he be asked in a kind way to go away? .

Martin Eble | 4/26/2015 - 9:10pm

Actually I suggested you sounded like a Trotskyite.

I was being kind.

Carol Byrne | 4/25/2015 - 7:25am

“Why I support the canonization of Dorothy Day,” Robert Ellsberg writes. Well, the honest answer is because he supports all of her political opinions and wants to see them canonized along with her.
The big problem here is that, like all supporters of Dorothy Day, Ellsberg has not considered the whole picture, but has based his assessment on a myopic vision of her life and works, with the result that some serious factual omissions have been made. One glaring omission is Day’s continued support for Communist revolutionaries and their enterprises which persisted throughout her career, long after her conversion to Catholicism.

In my book, “The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-80): a Critical Analysis”, (published by Authorhouse, 2010) I have provided proof, drawn from archival evidence, that even after her conversion to Catholicism, Dorothy Day became a member of several Socialist organizations and was actively involved in political groups whose founders and leaders where predominantly Communist Party members.

No one doubts that she helped the poor. But she went way beyond a call for a “revolution of the heart” for more compassion towards the poor: she adopted Marxist class-based theories and advocated the overthrowing of existing governments (not Socialist ones but rich, Western ones.)

My book contains documentary evidence to prove that Day supported the policies of hostile foreign powers operating from Moscow, Havana, Peking and Hanoi against her own country, the USA. She also wrote favourably about such Socialist dictators as Lenin, Castro, Mao and Ho Chi Minh, even though they had all violently persecuted the Church in their respective countries.

So why should we confer sainthood on someone who praised and supported the enemies of the Church when such activities were condemned by successive Popes of the time?

On many occasions, Day ignored the legitimate claims of authority in both Church and State. In spite of attempts to whitewash her, the fact remains that her civil disobedience - and, even worse, her incitement to others to disregard public authority - violated not only the teaching of the Catholic Church but also the laws of the United States. In fact, Day was so radical and anti-American that the FBI placed her on the federal government’s Security Index.

The evidence is irrefutable that Dorothy Day was a radical revolutionary who strove throughout her life to bring Socialism into the Catholic Church under the guise of “Christian Communism” and Distributism.

Please read the above-mentioned book and let the facts (which have been carefully suppressed) speak for themselves. This would avoid the embarrassment, not to mention the scandal, of canonizing a Catholic Communizer. For even more information, visit the blog “Dorothy Day Another Way.”

DAVID LUKENBILL MR | 4/25/2015 - 12:26pm

Before I read Carol Byrne’s book, I was a huge fan of Dorothy Day and I have all of her books (even The Eleventh Virgin) but since then, and following up with my own research, I found that the conclusions Dr. Bryne reached are absolutely correct; Dorothy Day was a communist/socialist, and, a devout Catholic, but she had so conflated her communism/socialism with her Catholicism, that she believed them one and the same; which, all too sadly, is the position many in our Church hold.

Beth Cioffoletti | 4/25/2015 - 8:11am

I don't know that I've ever seen such concerted effort to discount the works of mercy as political pandering -- and under the guise of protecting the Catholic Church from Dorothy Day!

Min Bee | 5/1/2015 - 5:00pm

Beth, Day is a poor candidate for canonization--given her consistent and confusing attempt to graft her mishmash of personal and political opinion onto the the truths of the Faith.

How refreshing that Robert Ellsberg--who is on the Steering Committee of the Dorothy Day Guild--confirms that Cardinal O'Connor, who claimed in a 2000 letter in "Catholic New York" to have consulted many "experts" on Day's cause, seems to have been most swayed by the testimony of her co-workers in and around the Catholic Worker. In addition, Ellsberg notes that if Day's process succeeds, "It will move her witness from the margins to the center of the church’s memory." If this assessment is accurate, it would seem the Church does not have to be "protected" from Day, as you conjecture.

Catholics who believe Day is not a candidate for sainthood have every right to speak and write to counter the "concerted effort" being made by the author of this article and his cohorts to create a kinder, gentler "St.Dorothy," who did not exist in real life. For an alternate view to Ellsberg's brief mention of Day's views on abortion, please see as well as

In addition, Dr. Carol Byrne's Complete Supplementary Notes for "The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis" (2010)--which number about 25 pages--are available at These notes expand the nine pages of "Endnotes" in the text (pp. 299-307) of this documented and scholarly text.

ed gleason | 4/27/2015 - 7:31pm

Hi Beth.... you say ;
"I don't know that I've ever seen such concerted effort to discount the works of mercy as political pandering'

say hello to Oscar Romero .. they tried for 3 decades and are failing in that endeavor.. How many failures will it take for these Tea Party Catholics who have no public leadership to fade into the woodwork?

David Pasinski | 4/24/2015 - 5:24pm

There is no one I can think of that I would pay more attention to than Robert Ellsburg on this subject for the obvious reasons -his having known Dorothy Day so well in those days at The Catholic Worker, his wonderful collections and biographies of her from his earliest "By Little and By Little," his deep and wide appreciation of the intellectual state of the Church in the world, and his appreciation of her insights as well as a global view through his leadership for these many years at Orbis. I have been a skeptic about this canonization issue for the reasons he notes and I am still not entirely convinced that a certain co-opting is not still too possible. Yet he points out rightly that that is not the core issue and this essay should be read by others like myself who are yet doubters about the process for many reasons. Thank you, Bob, as my heart and head are turning to support your well-reasoned and most comprehensive and heartfelt opinions.

Recently by Robert Ellsberg

Las Casas' Discovery (November 5, 2012)
Editing Henri Nouwen (September 18, 2006)
Five Years With Dorothy Day (November 21, 2005)
Evangelism of Presence (November 14, 2005)
Dorothy in Love (November 15, 2010)