Dorothy Day: A Necessary Saint for Our Time

When I heard the news that the U.S. Bishops had heartily endorsed the advancement of the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day at their annual Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, my heart leapt for joy that this remarkable 20th century Catholic lay woman was at last being recognized as a true model of holiness. Since the year 2000, when Cardinal John O’Connor, then-archbishop of New York, first submitted Dorothy Day’s cause for canonization to the Vatican, she has been called a "Servant of God," a title she may have been a bit more comfortable with than "saint," though her humility would no doubt have resisted both.  

In bringing forth her cause for sainthood to the whole body of Bishops at the annual Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a successor of Cardinal O’Connor, referred to Dorothy not only as a saint but as “a saint for our time.” Cardinal Dolan and the other Bishops who spoke during the consultation called Day’s sainthood cause an opportune moment in the life of the U.S. church.


I have found myself pondering what makes this so true, what makes this pronouncement so timely for us, as church, amid our present struggles and hopes? Like many others, I have long been inspired and challenged by Dorothy Day’s radical embrace of Catholicism in all its dimensions of belief, worship, discipleship and prayer, a faith-tradition she adopted after a tumultuous life that bore many of the scars of “the modern dilemma.”

Hearing her speak at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976, reflecting on her writings over the years, seeing her legacy continue through Catholic Worker kitchens, shelters and newspapers around the country today, sharing her labyrinthine journey with contemporary college students, who find her as captivating as I do—these are some of the ways that Dorothy Day’s spirituality has informed, inspired and stayed gracefully interwoven in my life.

But only more recently has it occurred to me, brought into special focus by the Bishops’ consultation, that Dorothy Day is, above all, a unifying figure, one whose life eloquently testifies to the spiritual power of her “complete Catholicism.” Dorothy’s way of holiness combined faith and life, contemplation and action, prayer and prophetic witness, eucharistic worship and social justice.

She heard the Psalmist’s call to "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10), thus nourishing her deep contemplative experience of God’s gracious love. She heeded as well the Prophet’s exhortation to "Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8), thus living the works of mercy, standing in solidarity with the homeless and the worker, speaking out for justice and peace.

As we find ourselves too-often inundated by divisions and polarizations, Dorothy’s life reminds us of the small ‘c’ in our catholic tradition, a tradition that turns us away from “either/or” and urges us toward “both/and”—both Mary and Martha, both a spirituality of interiority and a life of service, both worship and works, both an openness to the grace of the sacraments and an awareness of the graces of the world.

Incredibly, tragically, this garment has been rent. Complementarity has given way to conflict, spawning competitive litmus tests of what church is, or is not. Dorothy Day shows us another way, a way of holiness and wholeness that is catholic as well as Catholic, seeking Oneness in both the transcendent and immanent dimensions of the Cross.

Dorothy Day is indeed a saint for our time, a saint our time urgently needs.

Peggy McDonald, IHM


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6 years 1 month ago
Thank you, Sr McDonald!  I had never thought of Dorothy Day in this light till your reflections on her.  A figure of unity - of course!  We've got people threatening to leave the Church because they don't like the new translation "consubstantial" or they don't like the way nuns on a bus celebrate their discipleship.  This is ridiculous - no, a great tragedy. and we are allowing ourselves to forget the broad wings of the People of God that embrace and weclome us all.  We are a both/and people, as you say.  Dorothy Day will remind us that we are One, and when we resent that "other side" with a different charism from our own, we can ask, with Dorothy, and like Peter, "Where shall we go?" God bless you - a divine insight!
6 years 1 month ago
This should be in the print edition!  It's about time we hear an irenic voice, pointing out an irenic figure in our communal midst.  We crucify the Church with our quarrels.  "Conservative" vs "Progressive" - terrble, destructive terms!  A figure of unity?  Can there be anything more important right now inthe history of our Church?  Print this one in the next issue.. in bold letters for all to see!
David Pasinski
6 years 1 month ago
We have three communities in our area that claim CatholicWworker roots and each is a fine example of at least some of the spirituality of Dorothy Day. She is easily a "saint" in the minds of all of us who know those who claim her legacy and serve others so well.

However, I do believe she's rolling in her grave if she has to have two "miracles" in her name before being so acclaimed. The "miracle"s occur in her name daily in the lives of the indidividuals who claim to be inspired by her and in those of the persons they serve.

We just proclaimed two saints from our area -Kateri Tekawitha and the Mother Marianne Cope - both very worthy. But he "miracle business" is ridiculous for criteria - though I personally know one of those so attributed with a healing and am grateful that she was healed and thrives in our midst.

Get rid of the miracle business before puttting Dorothy Day through any such process. 
Craig McKee
6 years 1 month ago
Dorothy herself has begged to differ - as only she could:

“Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.”

 Dorothy Day quotes (American reformer, Journalist and Founder of the Catholic Worker.1897-1980)
Molly Roach
6 years 1 month ago
Even if the men have such a horizon in mind,  I do not believe that anyone can harness the mysterious power of the Spirit-and that power is evident in the life of Dorothy Day.  I have a story.  Back in the 50's after my mother had given birth to
her 4th child, someone (she thinks it was Dorothy Day) came to the door, collecting
for the Catholic Worker.  My mom was a pretty vulnerable woman, who struggled for confidence and often felt isolated.  Whoever came to the door that day had tea with her and told her what a great mother she was with this tiny new baby.  My Mom told this story until the end of her life, certain she'd had tea with Dorothy Day.  She was
so bolstered and built up by the encouragement-it could not be exaggerated.  If
it was not Dorothy Day, it was certainly someone deeply influenced by her and whoever
it was,  bestowed a powerful gift on my mother and through her, to the rest of her family.   So I bless the name of Dorothy Day, saint or not because of this.  But I
bet there are other stories like this out there.  This legacy is one of love and presence, and I don't think it can be harnessed for anything but greater good. 
6 years 1 month ago
Dorothy had her differences with "men of the church" and was often respectfully outspoken about the hierarchy, however she once said that if her local bishop asked her to close down the Catholic Worker kitchen, she would, in the interest of peace and unity, out of regard for the preservation of the Mystical Body.  I think she would be saddened that cynicism has replaced that spirit of reconciliation. 
6 years 1 month ago
All of the above!  My guess is that this is going to be a post that people really like or really hate.  As Church we seem to have adopted the secular fad of trashing each other.  It's so much fun!  Rather than seeking unity and reconciliation, we threaten schism and throw insults at each other, from "cookie worshipper" (from the so-called left) to "hippie Catholic" (from the so-called right).  Even the great atheist Irish writer James Joyce perceived the Church as a diverse but unified community, giving it (in his novel Finnegans Wake) the whimsical moniker "HCE" - Here Comes Everybody. Let's keep it that way!  This blog could be the start of a conversation that may keep us from tearing ourselves apart.  THe media has realy enjoyed our attempt to self-destruct.
6 years 1 month ago
Great words. Saint Dorothy, pray for us!
Gerelyn Hollingsworth
6 years 1 month ago

The men of the Church have decided to harness this woman's legacy and use it for their own benefit.  
Jamie Silvano
6 years 1 month ago
Sister Peggy, we all can rejoice with you about the recent good news of Dorothy Day. What a profound insight you related to us for our day as she saw the magnitude of human pain in society and responded zealously despite the church's criticism at that time. It takes great courage to follow one's conscience when good sometimes is looked upon as evil.
As I am reading ''All the Way to Heaven-the Selected Letters of Dorothy Day'', it has given me a deeper understanding of the joys and sorrows of her mission. As Father James Martin comments on the back cover of the book: '' Read these remarkable letters and come to know a saint.''
Rita Sorrentino
6 years 1 month ago
Thank you, Sister Peggy. What a beautiful way to begin Advent today with this insighful reflection. I had planned on reading Women of Mercy by Kathy Cofey (illustrated by Brother Mickey McGrath) and was delighted to find Dorothy as one of the chapters, which is sublitled ''The Breadline of Mercy.'' The local and global dimensions of her life and ministry summon me to do attend to my daily responsibilites with the light of ''day.''


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