Dorothy Day's Journals

Robert Ellsberg, currently the publisher of Orbis Books, has pulled off the journalistic equivalent of a double-play, scoring recent cover articles in both Commonweal and The London Tablet. The reason? After several years of dedicated scholarship, Ellsberg has put the finishing touches the first complete edition of the journals of Dorothy Day, entitled "The Duty of Delight" (after one of Dorothy’s favorite expressions, from John Ruskin). The book is to be published this month by Marquette University Press. The Tablet piece, a sort of summary of her life, is here: "Dorothy Day/Tablet" The Commonweal article, taken from the book’s introduction, and which requires a registration, is here: "Dorothy Day/CW" Ellsberg enjoyed a life-changing friendship with Dorothy Day, which began while he was a young man, and ultimately led to his conversion to Catholicism. Taking off a few years from his undergraduate studies at Harvard, Ellsberg presented himself to the Catholic Worker house in New York City, where he was immediately put to work by the woman who is now a "Servant of God." After the two became friends, Dorothy asked the young man to serve as editor of the Worker’s newspaper. Ellsberg told me recently (and mentions this in the Tablet article) that as he read her journals, he was pleasantly surprised to discover just how involved Dorothy was with her daughter Tamar (who recently passed away) and Tamar’s family. In some of her writings, which focus more on her work with the poor, her family seems something of an afterthought, and she has often been criticized for this. The journals may serve as a corrective to that critique. In "The Duty of Delight," then, she is revealed not only as an apostle of social justice but also a loving mother. As well, Dorothy continued her contact with Tamar’s father, Forster, and, amazingly (though perhaps not for a soon-to-be saint) even nursed Forster’s wife, Nanette, when Nanette was dying from cancer. Perhaps the most charming story concerns the discovery of the journals from the last year of Dorothy’s life, which were thought to have been lost. Ellsberg scouted around for some time until he happened to think of calling a longtime Catholic Worker who was living in Dorothy’s room at the Catholic Worker house in New York. Perhaps he would have some idea of where to look. The man simply opened up a drawer in her room and located them. Thanks to Ellsberg’s persistent scholarship, we have journal entries that continue up until just a few days before her death. As well as her thoughts, ranging over several decades, on her involvement in a vast array of political and social causes, the Catholic church that she loved so much, the flowering of the Catholic worker movement, and, of course, prayer, sacrifice and joy. Dorothy Day’s journals, "The Duty of Delight," can be ordered on Amazon and from your local bookstores. James Martin, SJ
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