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Kevin ClarkeMay 01, 2023
All aboard for the inaugural run of The Dorothy Day from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan. Photo by Kevin Clarke.All aboard for the inaugural run of The Dorothy Day from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan. Photo by Kevin Clarke.

The Dorothy Day became the latest addition to the Staten Island Ferry fleet with a maiden voyage on the 12:30 p.m. run to Manhattan on April 28. However, a completely unscientific survey of the early afternoon crowd surging on board suggested that just about no one knew who Dorothy Day was.

Of course, there were a handful of ringers from local Catholic Worker houses on hand for the inaugural launch who did. They briefly formed an ebullient picket line greeting commuters and tourists, handing out pamphlets and sheets with anti-war messages, excited to tell anyone who would listen all about Dorothy Day, the person, as The Dorothy Day, the ferry, lurched from its berth, beginning its first 25-minute trip across New York Harbor to Lower Manhattan.

Robert Steed: “She would be happy about having a ferry named after her, maybe even more so than being canonized.”

Brendan Fay, an Irish immigrant and local peace and L.G.B.T. activist, was over the moon about the honor the New York Department of Transportation had bestowed on his personal hero. He joined activists from the New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons at the ferry entrance.

A lot of people come to New York to see the Statue of Liberty and to shop in Times Square, he said. “I came to find the Catholic Worker and Dorothy Day, where the movement began and inspired people around the world to rise up against war and nuclear weapons.

“I am so proud of New Yorkers today who are honoring this amazing woman,” Mr. Fay said, describing Day as “the light that our world needs…against war and hunger and a path for peace and hospitality.”

Day once famously rejected the idea of sainthood, noting she did not want to be so easily dismissed, but Mr. Fay was sure that she would have loved the idea of having a ferry named for her. He explained: “It’s the one piece of [New York] public transportation that’s free and [from which] nobody’s excluded—the houseless, the homeless, the tourist, the student, the worker—it’s the face of New York on this ferry; that’s why it is very much in the spirit of Dorothy Day.”

In that same spirit, he urged New Yorkers to press local officials to make all municipal transportation free and especially “to push our city to divest worker pensions from investments in nuclear weapons.”

Robert Steed, a former Catholic Worker and editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper, was enjoying the inaugural ride with an old friend from the Catholic Worker movement, Sheila Dugan. “I rode this ferry with Dorothy many times,” he said.

Dorothy Day’s granddaughter, the activist and author Martha Hennessy, was among the honored guests at the launch. “It’s a joyful day,” she said. The new ferry boat is “a great cause to celebrate.”

“She would be happy about having a ferry named after her,” Mr. Steed said, adding with a mischievous smile, “maybe even more so than being canonized.”

“She loved Staten Island,” Mr. Steed added.

Ms. Dugan, who joined the movement as a teenager in the 1950s, admitted to crying a little when she saw the new ferry’s nameplate. “It was very touching, seeing her name there,” she said.

Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Dorothy Day began her journey into the Catholic Church, radical pacifism and the founding of the Catholic Worker after encounters with the Sisters of Charity on Staten Island. In 1924, she purchased a small cottage on the island where she devoted herself to her daughter Tamar and to her writing.

She was received into the church at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Tottenville, Staten Island, in December 1927. Her cause for canonization was opened in 2000 by the Archdiocese of New York.

Dorothy Day’s granddaughter, the activist Martha Hennessy, was among the honored guests at the launch. “It’s a joyful day,” she said. The new ferry boat is “a great cause to celebrate.”

John O’Hara: “You don’t have to go to the Holy Land to find prophets; all you have to do is come to Staten Island, our holy land, our saint, our Dorothy Day.”

“I know the incredible Staten Island Ferry staff are especially proud to officially bring the Dorothy Day into the harbor today,” D.O.T. Commissioner Ydanis Rodríguez said. “We know that during her life, Day loved riding this ferry—and she was like Staten Islanders who know that a short ferry ride can serve as a peaceful, even meaningful, escape from the hustle and bustle of life in our city. We thank all the activists—from the Catholic Worker, the Dorothy Day Guild and so many other places—who are joining us today, as they keep Dorothy’s vital memory and incredible legacy alive.”

Commissioned in November 2022, The Dorothy Day is an $85 million Ollis-class ferry, with a maximum capacity of 4,500 and state-of-the-art safety and comfort features. The Staten Island Ferry service runs free of charge every day for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles between Staten Island and Lower Manhattan.

The name on the ferry may not mean a lot to many of its riders, Ms. Hennessy admitted, but some will surely be curious enough to find out more about Dorothy Day and her commitment to hospitality, service and peace in an age of warmaking. “The more name recognition she gets the better,” she said.

“Here we are, 90 seconds to nuclear holocaust, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,” she said. “I don’t like to focus on that, but let’s pay attention to what’s happening around us. She would be talking about that as well with this horrific war in Ukraine that is totally unnecessary and immoral.”

Unlike just about all the commuters, tourists and ferry enthusiasts who had inadvertently joined the inaugural voyage, Justin Reyes, 29, a Staten Island native, had come down to the ferry dock especially for the launch of The Dorothy Day. Some friends from Fordham University in the Bronx had introduced him to the story of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, and Day has been added to his list of local heroes and role models. “Staten Island makes great people,” he said proudly. Mr. Reyes has been so taken by Dorothy Day’s example that he has joined up with a group of Catholic Workers who are exploring the possibility of opening a Catholic Worker house on Staten Island.

The Most Rev. John O’Hara, former episcopal vicar of both Staten Island and southern Manhattan, was among the dignitaries celebrating the new ferry. “God raises up prophets to disturb the comfortable and to comfort the disturbed,” he said. But “you don’t have to go to the Holy Land to find prophets; all you have to do is come to Staten Island, our holy land, our saint, our Dorothy Day.”

He said in her chaotic time, Day “lived the beatitudes; she lived the corporal works of mercy.” But, he added, “she is not to be admired; she is to be imitated.”

“May she fire us all up,” Mr. Fay said, before finding his place on board. “Today New York declares her a saint; I hope the world will catch up soon.”

Corrections May 2: Martha Hennessy was misidentified as “author”—her sister Kate Hennessy is an author. Tamar Day Hennessy was born in Manhattan, not on Staten Island. Finally, Ms. Hennessy was misquoted. She does support the ferry’s “name recognition” impact on the cause for Dorothy Day’s canonization.

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