Panel assesses Dorothy Day’s impact on church and their own lives

A mural depicting social activist and sainthood candidate Dorothy Day is seen Dec. 4 in a park near the Church of the Nativity in New York City Dec. 4, 2018. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If you met Dorothy Day, you were changed, said panelists at a Jan. 27 discussion following an advance screening of a new documentary, "Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story," which profiles the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.

And if you were changed, they noted, you had the ability to make change yourself.

Advertisement

"Dorothy taught me to pay attention and feel the sufferings of others," said Martha Hennessy, one of Day's granddaughters, during the forum at Georgetown University in Washington.

"Dorothy gives us hope. Dorothy gives us courage to do what we need to do in our times to if we need want to be called disciples of Christ," she added.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

Hennessy is a member of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. They face prison terms of up to 20 years after being convicted on charges related to their faith-based nonviolent and symbolic disarming of a Trident submarine's nuclear weapons in Georgia. She had a "curfew" of 8:30 p.m., and left following the discussion.

Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books and editor of Day's writings, recalled, "I didn't know I was going to spend so much time there" at Mary House, the first Catholic Worker house of hospitality in New York City, after he decided to take a year off from Harvard College. Attracted to the Catholic Worker's peace witness, "I knew there was a kind of learning I couldn't do in school," he said. Day made Ellsberg, then 20, editor of the Catholic Worker, its monthly newspaper.

As Kate Hennessy, another of Day's granddaughters, said in the documentary, "If you spend any time up close and personal with Dorothy Day, you never know what hit you." For Ellsberg's part, he said he's spent the rest of his life "trying to share with the world what had hit me."

Carolyn Zablotny, leader of the Dorothy Day Guild and the effort to have Day canonized, spoke about the evolution of her faith.

"At my Catholic grade school, I had my faith memorized. In college I intellectualized it," Zablotny said. "When I went to the Catholic Worker, when I saw a poor woman wrapped in layers and layers and layers of dirty clothes, I got what the Gospel was about."

"She taught me to believe in love. She taught me to believe in God. She taught me that peace is possible," said Hennessy, who called that process "self-disarmament."

"She did not look back," Ellsberg added. "She just kept going, kept going, kept going, kept going."

Were Day to live long enough to see Pope Francis as the successor of Peter, "I think she'd be overjoyed," said Martin Doblmeier, who made the "Revolution of the Heart" documentary.

"I think she would have been cheering about the comments about the man when he went to Japan" and denounced the threat to use nuclear weapons. Pope Francis is, "in some way, a fulfillment of what she had been championing all her life," added Doblmeier, president and founder of Journey Films.

Martha Hennessy agreed, calling Pope Francis "a pope after her own heart. She herself talked about the necessity to do more than demonstrate and speak. There's also the necessity to act, and to act without fear. Fear is used to control us. What do we do to overcome that challenge?"

Ellsberg called Pope Francis "the pope Dorothy dreamed up. ... He reads the Gospel through a Franciscan lens, with the eye on the poor," he said, "going out to the peripheries to touch the wounds of Christ. That's what Dorothy did every day."

Popes are one thing, Ellsberg added, but presidents are another. "She didn't spend a lot of time talking about prsidents, be it (Richard) Nixon or LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson)," he said. "Dorothy was a woman of the beatitudes. She lived the beatitudes."

Hennessy said her grandmother saw her role as "calling Christians to love God with all your heart and all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself." But in a weapons-laden world, she added, "we have a complicity," she added. "We cannot let ourselves off so easily, if we want to call ourselves Christians, 98% of the nuclear arsenal is in the hands of white Christians."

But by another token, "Life is beautiful. I've lived a privileged life," Hennessy said. "It was time for me to step up and do what I could do. ... There's a lot of joy in standing up to the most powerful force on earth and giving oneself over. I'm in the hands of God, and it's OK."

"We're all called to be saints. Dorothy understood that before Vatican II," Zablotny said. Advocating for Day's sainthood "is a way of getting her story told," she added.

But the church generally requires two authenticated miracles before it pronounces a new saint. In that instance, Ellsberg said, "God will supply a miracle if God wants to."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Dorothy Day—including archival material authored by her.]

Advertisement

The latest from america

The Amazon synod wrought three significant changes in the Catholic Church's way of proceeding.
Mauricio López OropezaFebruary 19, 2020
A leader of the Celia Xakriaba peoples walks along the banks of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park on Jan. 15, 2020. (CNS photo/Ricardo Moraes, Reuters)
The apostolic exhortation “Querida Amazonia,” conveys the suffering of the Amazon and its people in stark terms, writes Vincent J. Miller. We must not be distracted from its message.
Vincent J. MillerFebruary 19, 2020
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, called on Syria and its allies to permit safe humanitarian corridors to be set up in the conflict areas.
This week on the “Inside the Vatican” podcast, the hosts take a deep dive into “Querida Amazonia.”
Colleen DulleFebruary 19, 2020