An Introduction to the Life and Spirituality of Dorothy Day
and Rosemary Broughton
A Radical Lay Catholic
Dorothy Day's life and legacy is a radical movement, faithful
to the Gospel and the church, immersed in the social issues of
the day, with the aim of transforming both individuals and society.
In an age marked by widespread violence, impersonal government,
shallow interpersonal commitments, and a quest for self-fulfillment,
Dorothy Day's spirit fosters nonviolence, personal responsibility
of all people to the poorest ones among us, and fidelity to community
and to God.
Dorothy Day's vision continues in the Catholic Worker Movement
that she cofounded with Peter Maurin. Approximately 120 Catholic
Worker communities serve in the United States, with new houses
of hospitality opening every year. Dorothy left no rule or directions
for the Catholic Worker communities. The rule she lived by and
promoted is contained in the Gospels, most particularly in the
Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew, chapter 25.
The vision of Dorothy Day lives on in The Catholic Worker newspaper
that has been continually published since 1933. Dorothy was a
journalist all her adult life, and she lived through and commented
on the central events of the twentieth century: wars, economic
depression, class struggle, the nuclear threat, and the civil
rights movement. The Catholic Worker and her prodigious writings
always focus the light of the Gospel on our conscience as we struggle
with these issues. She wrote to comfort the afflicted and to afflict
These world issues and the suffering of humanity still challenge
people of conscience to create a better world. Dorothy Day's response
is essential Gospel: an old vision, so old it looks new. Her vision
is anchored in the apostolic era and is essential for the atomic
age. It challenges us to build community, grow in faith, and serve
poor people. Her vision is a model of liberation for the United
In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy divides her
life into three parts. She describes her first twenty-five years
as a time of "Searching" for a center of meaning and
focus for her energies. During the middle period she calls "Natural
Happiness," she lived in a common-law marriage, gave birth
to a daughter, completed her conversion, embraced Catholicism,
and turned her life in a new direction. The last and longest period,
"Love Is the Measure," began when she met Peter Maurin
and then cofounded the Catholic Worker Movement with him.
Dorothy was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 8 November 1897 to
Grace Satterlee Day, a New Yorker, and John Day, a Tennessean.
Dorothy had two older brothers, Donald and Sam Houston. A sister,
Della, and another brother, John, later joined the family.
When Dorothy was six years old, her father, a sports writer,
took a job in California and moved the family to Oakland. He lost
his job when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
destroyed the newspaper plant. Dorothy's memories of the quake
and of her mother and the neighbors helping the homeless remained
stamped in her mind. The family then moved to Chicago where they
lived for the next twelve years.
Dorothy grew up in a conventional middle-class home in the period
before World War I. The Days valued reading, education, and writing.
Her parents seemed to create a caring home. Nominally Protestant,
the Days seldom attended church. Dorothy remembered being interested
in religion and recalled reading the Bible, encountering neighbors
praying, and at age eight being "disgustingly, proudly pious"
(Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy
When Dorothy was ten, the rector of a nearby Episcopal church
convinced Mrs. Day to enroll her sons in the choir. Dorothy started
to attend church every Sunday. She loved the songs, especially
the Benedicite, the Te Deum, and the psalms. When her family moved
to the north side of Chicago, she studied the catechism so that
she could be baptized and confirmed.
Dorothy read avidly. Her father insisted on keeping trashy dime
novels out of the house. So even though she spent much of her
time looking after John, the last of the Day children, Dorothy
devoured the works of Hugo, Dickens, Stevenson, Cooper, Poe, and
much of the socially conscious literature of Sinclair Lewis and
others. At sixteen, she won a scholarship and enrolled at the
University of Illinois.
College: Searching in Earnest
During Dorothy's two years at the university, she established
deep friendships, began her journalistic career, and developed
a keen awareness of social conditions. While writing pieces for
a local paper, she observed the disparity between the lives of
rich and poor people. Subsequently, she joined the Socialist Party
at the university. Even though the works of Dostoyevsky helped
Dorothy retain a faith in God, she rejected organized religion
because she perceived that it did nothing to alleviate the plight
of desperate people.
At this time, Dorothy was poor herself, working odd jobs and
living-in with families in exchange for doing laundry and child
care. Regarding social problems, her critical sense sharpened:
There was a great question in my mind. Why was so much done in
remedying social evils instead of avoiding them 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?
(Long Loneliness, p. 45)
The Searching Young Journalist
When Dorothy was eighteen, her family moved to New York. Dorothy
followed and took her first job as a journalist with the New York
Call, a socialist newspaper. Her reporter colleagues were socialists,
communists, labor organizers for the American Federation of Labor
and the Industrial Workers of the World (known as "Wobblies"),
and various free thinkers and anarchists opposed to conscription
and the entry of the United States into World War I.
Dorothy covered labor meetings and on one occasion traveled to
Washington with a group of Columbia University students who opposed
conscription. She reported on protests, the "bread riots"
against the high cost of living, strikes, unemployment, and the
many forms of human misery. The disparity between the classes
and a critique of the present system formed the common thread
in her reports.
Whether Dorothy personally endorsed the ideas she was writing
about or whether they were more the product of her associations
is not clear. Her accounts of this period highlight only the adventure
of being close to people who were trying to change society. The
street actions and the exciting debates of competing visions impressed
Dorothy. Nevertheless, primarily she was a reporter, but one who
advocated a point of view.
Dorothy's first jail experience occurred when she accompanied
a group of women suffragists to the White House to protest the
treatment of other suffragists in jail. While in jail, Dorothy
joined a hunger strike and suffered great emotional desolation,
a sense of the enormous evil that human beings can inflict on
one another. She despaired at the efficacy of the protests and
of her efforts: "What was right and wrong? What was good
and evil? I lay there in utter confusion and misery" (Long
Loneliness, p. 78).
Dorothy asked for a Bible and took great comfort from the psalms
that expressed her own sorrow and hope. However, she did not want
to go to God in this state of defeat.
After the hunger strike succeeded, she again turned away from
religion. Even so, being jailed was a significant experience for
Dorothy, one that moved her from observation to participation,
from being a passionate idealist to action. Her identification
with the masses became real.
A Time of Drifting
During these years, Dorothy lead a bohemian lifestyle that she
later described as dissolute, wasted, full of sensation and sensuality.
The suicide of one of her circle overwhelmed Dorothy with the
tragedy of life. She responded by signing on as a
probationer at King's County Hospital in Brooklyn to study nursing.
After a difficult year of demanding work, Dorothy abandoned her
foray into nursing to again pursue writing. She saw clearly that
this was her profession.
Dorothy had relationships with several men. After becoming pregnant,
she had an abortion when she feared that the man she loved would
leave her; the man deserted her anyway. She traveled to Europe,
then drifted to Chicago, New
Orleans, and briefly, California as a would-be screenwriter.
Even though the labor movement, socialist and communist ideas,
and her own experiences of hardship had an indelible impact on
Dorothy's commitment to social justice, this whole colorful period
saw her drifting and searching. She had little to ground her spirituality,
so at times she found herself dabbling in religious practices.
She acquired a rosary in New Orleans and visited churches out
of curiosity and in search of quiet and rest. She also observed
and admired the religious faith of ethnic Catholics. Dorothy felt
haunted by God and noted that even her former friends and comrades
of the period remembered her talking about God.
The publication of her autobiographical novel, The Eleventh
Virgin, closed her period of searching. She sold the screen rights
for five thousand dollars. In 1925 a friend persuaded her to buy
a beach house on Staten Island where she could settle down to
study and write.
Life in the bungalow on Staten Island was a period of intense
happiness. She entered into a common-law marriage with Forster
Battingham, a biologist whose political views Dorothy shared.
Like her, he decried injustice and suffering. Life seemed idyllic:
leisurely, simple, close to sea and sky, a cluster of friends
close by. Forster helped Dorothy appreciate the beauty and wonders
of the natural world around them.
This peaceful time for Dorothy also contained the seeds of change.
Later she reflected:
It was a peace, curiously enough, divided against itself. I was
happy but my very happiness made me know that there was a greater
happiness to be obtained from life than any I had ever known.
I began to think, to weigh things, and it was at this time that
I began consciously to pray more. (Long Loneliness, p. 116)
Dorothy prayed as she walked to get the mail, carried a rosary
in her pocket, addressed the Blessed Virgin whose statue she had
been given, was aware of God's mystery as she planted a seed,
and recited the Te Deum as she worked about the house. She started
regularly attending Sunday Mass. Dorothy's growing absorption
in religion dismayed Forster. He saw religion as morbid escapism,
and any talk about it immediately threw up a wall between them.
Tamar Teresa and Conversion
Dorothy had thought herself barren, but became pregnant. Years
later she recalled, "I will never forget my blissful joy
when I was first sure that I was pregnant" (Long Loneliness,
p. 136). Forster opposed bringing children into the world, so
this development only created more conflict between them.
During her pregnancy, Dorothy decided she would have her child
baptized. Belonging to a faith, she thought, would give her child
the order lacking in her own life. She prayed for the gift of
faith for herself: "I was sure, yet not sure. I postponed
the day of decision." She knew that if she became a Catholic,
Forster would leave: "It was hard to contemplate giving up
a mate in order that my child and I could become members of the
Church. Forster wanted nothing to do with religion or with me
if I embraced it. So I waited" (Long Loneliness, pp. 136-137).
Dorothy had been led to worship and prayer through the beauty
of creation and the unutterable joy of Tamar Teresa's birth, but
a detached and private faith did not satisfy her. She declared
that her whole make-up as a radical led her to associate with
others and be a part of the masses. For years Dorothy had seen
the masses give their allegiance to the Catholic church in every
city she lived in. For her, this ancient church was the church
of the masses, so to it she gave her allegiance.
One day she saw a religious sister walking down the road and
asked how she could have her daughter baptized. Sister Aloysia
taught Dorothy her catechism, which she insisted
be memorized, and brought her pious magazines to read. Dorothy
found the piety tedious but decided to trust God.
After Tamar Teresa's baptism, the tension between Forster and
Dorothy increased. Over the next months, he left her and the baby
numerous times, but always returned. Dorothy hesitated to take
the final step that she knew would irrevocably end her life with
Forster. If she tried to talk about her faith, he grew silent.
Dorothy loved him deeply and respected his anarchist and atheist
views, but she could not envision becoming a Catholic and living
with him. This tension dragged on into the next summer when Dorothy
became ill and was diagnosed with a nervous condition.
During the winter of 1927, after an emotional explosion, Forster
left again, Dorothy decided to end the torture for the two of
them. When he tried to return, she would not let him in. The next
day, she went to Sister Aloysia and was conditionally baptized,
since she had already been baptized in the Episcopal church.
Dorothy continued writing and caring for Tamar. The Pathé
movie studio in California offered her a contract to write for
them. She did so for three months, but they actually gave her
little work. She then went to Mexico for six months, partly to
delay her return to New York since, "I hungered too much
to return to Forster" (Long Loneliness, p. 158). After Tamar
contracted malaria in Mexico, mother and daughter returned to
New York City only to be greeted by the beginnings of the Great
In December 1932, the Catholic magazine The Commonweal commissioned
Dorothy to write an article about a hunger march on Washington,
D.C. The marchers, organized by the communists, sought social
legislation to combat unemployment, establish pensions, and provide
relief for mothers and children. As Dorothy stood on the curb
watching, her heart swelled with pride and joy at the courage
of the marchers, and she felt a bitterness that her conversion
separated her from them:
I could write, I could protest, to arouse the conscience, but
where was the Catholic leadership in the gathering of bands of
men and women together, for the actual works of mercy that the
comrades had always made part of
their technique in reaching the workers? (Long Loneliness, p.
After she had written her story, Dorothy went to the national
shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. "There
I offered up a special prayer, a prayer which came with tears
and with anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what
talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor"
(Long Loneliness, p. 166). When she returned to New York, she
would find Peter Maurin waiting to meet her.
Love Is the Measure
Dorothy always insisted that Peter Maurin, not she, started the
Catholic Worker Movement. She also credited him for completing
her Catholic education.
The details of Peter Maurin's life are sketchy, but Dorothy recounts
what he told her. He was born a French peasant and became a teacher
with the De La Salle Christian Brothers in France. He emigrated
to Canada, worked as an itinerant laborer in the United States,
taught French in Chicago, then moved to New York. Constantly studying,
Peter was charged with a vision to change the social order. Saint
Francis of Assisi inspired him to live a life of voluntary poverty,
and Peter was determined to popularize the social doctrines of
the Catholic church.
Peter's vision was simple yet far-reaching. His program of action
consisted of roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought,
houses of hospitality where the works of mercy could be performed,
and agronomic universities-a return to working the land, where
workers could become scholars and scholars workers. He proposed
to popularize this vision by publishing a newspaper for the people
in the street.
When Peter met Dorothy, he introduced her to a whole new set
of ideas and a historical vision of the Catholic church. Speaking
in his thick French accent, he expounded on the prophets of Israel,
the Fathers of the church, and the lives of the saints. Dorothy
admired Peter both for the ideas he taught her and for his personal
example of voluntary poverty and deep faith.
Peter also introduced her to his personalist philosophy and the
French personalist writers, whose core belief is that all people
share a common humanity: each of us becomes who we are meant to
be by assuming personal responsibility for our brothers and sisters
in need. "He stressed the need of building a new society
within the shell of the old-that telling phrase from the preamble
to the I.W.W. constitution, 'a society in which it is easier for
people to be good,' he added with a touching simplicity, knowing
that when people are good, they are happy" (Long Loneliness,
p. 170). Peter stressed the need to perform the works of mercy
at a personal sacrifice.
Peter, a visionary, hardly noticed what he ate or where
he slept. Dorothy was more practical and action-oriented. Though
Dorothy deeply respected Peter, he sometimes annoyed her with
his zealous talking. Dorothy, who loved music, would scowl at
Peter to be still while she tried to listen to a concert on the
radio. Unfazed, Peter would find another listener and keep on
talking. Dorothy once quipped, "When his mouth was full he
would listen" (Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes, p. 20).
Nevertheless, through Peter's influence, Dorothy deepened her
appreciation of Catholicism, especially of its social teachings.
When Peter suggested starting a newspaper, something the journalist
Dorothy could readily agree to, she had the vehicle for expressing
the vision they shared.
The Catholic Worker Movement
On 1 May 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, The Catholic
Worker newspaper made its debut with a first issue
of twenty-five hundred copies. Dorothy and a few others hawked
the paper in Union Square for a penny a copy (still the price)
to passersby. They called the paper The "Catholic" Worker
because at the time many Catholics were poor. Peter and Dorothy
wanted to influence Catholics, who were criticized for a lack
of social and political morality. The paper was also for the worker
in the broadest sense because it addressed, "those who worked
with hand or brain, those who did physical, mental or spiritual
work. But we thought primarily of the poor, the dispossessed,
the exploited" (Long Loneliness, p. 204).
The Catholic Worker succeeded immediately, and circulation jumped
to 100,000 by the end of the first year. Bundles of the paper
found their way into parishes and schools around the country.
Soon volunteers arrived to help with the work. Donations of food,
clothing, and money came in to support them. A community grew
quickly to feed the homeless and unemployed people who streamed
to them, and the first house of hospitality opened.
What started as the effort of a newly converted Catholic laywoman
and a French peasant on fire with a vision to transform society
was becoming a movement. Intellectuals and ordinary laypeople
alike responded wholeheartedly to this Catholic vision of social
and personal transformation. It offered a more acceptable alternative
at a time when many people thought that only the communists cared
about the masses. Whether Dorothy sensed in 1933 that they had
started a "permanent revolution," as she called it in
The Long Loneliness, is not clear. But her prayer at the national
shrine had been answered.
In the early days of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy did
what she did best. She wrote about the conditions of poor people
and especially about the conditions of workers and the labor movement,
then still struggling for recognition. She sought to synthesize
Catholic social teaching in such a way that it would inspire volunteers,
clergy, even bishops. Often she succeeded.
Some Catholic workers who came to New York went to other cities
to form their own Catholic Worker houses. Within a few years thirty-three
Catholic Worker houses and farms dotted the country. Although
publishing the newspaper, offering hospitality at the houses,
and assisting people through the works of mercy composed the chief
work of the communities, Catholic Workers also joined street protests
and labor pickets, helped with the housing and feeding of strikers,
picketed the German consulate in 1935, and called for boycotts
of stores where low wages or poor working conditions existed.
Inspired by Peter's vision, Catholic Worker farms strove to become
agronomic universities. Oftentimes farms were donated to a worker
community, but many of them failed for lack of resources or the
necessary skills to live on the land. Dorothy acknowledged that
they had to learn through grim experience. Some of the farms thrived
and became rural havens for poor families, places of convalescence
for the ill, getaways for slum children, and places where students
discussed the green revolution that Peter envisioned.
The Catholic Worker Movement soon met resistance. Dorothy's opposition
to war and her pacifist stand during the Spanish Civil War divided
supporters for the movement. Schools canceled their subscriptions
to The Catholic Worker. Even so, Dorothy maintained her staunch
pacifism and opposed in speech and writing all wars without exception,
basing her position on Christ's command in the Sermon on the Mount
to love our enemies.
In addition to writing of her challenging vision for every monthly
edition of The Catholic Worker, Dorothy wrote articles for Catholic
periodicals and two books. The personal testament of her search
for God and eventual conversion became From Union Square to Rome
(1938). House of Hospitality (1939) chronicled the early days
of the Catholic Worker Movement.
The War Years
Resistance to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement intensified
as the nation went to war. For Dorothy it was a time of deepening,
a necessary time of consolidation of her Catholic faith and of
the ideas that fueled the Catholic Worker Movement. She was one
of the few Catholic voices opposing World War II, as she had all
previous wars, and not all those in the movement agreed with Dorothy's
total pacifism. Many houses closed, some because the men who ran
them were drafted. The bread lines shortened because of full employment
for the war effort.
In 1943, Dorothy took a leave from the Catholic Worker Movement
and spent some months on a solitary retreat near her daughter's
boarding school. Tamar had grown up in the movement, and Dorothy's
duties as a mother and the work at the Catholic Worker houses
taxed them both. Now Dorothy wanted to be closer to her daughter
as she matured.
Beginning around 1943, Peter Maurin's health started to deteriorate,
and his mind began to fail him. When he realized the confused
state of his thinking, he grew virtually silent, accepting his
situation. Peter's decline was difficult for Dorothy to watch
because he had played such a vital role in the formation of her
Dorothy's spirituality up to this time had been fed by attending
daily Mass, reading the lives of the saints and the New Testament,
and performing the works of mercy. After attending conferences,
days of recollection, and an intense rereat
with Catholic Workers from the east coast and the Midwest, Dorothy
very consciously began to focus on the Scripture message that
we all share in the abundant love of God and that all of us are
called to be saints. She concluded:
This love, this foolishness of love, illustrated in the book of
Osee in the Old Testament and in the story of the prodigal son
in the New, this folly of the Cross, was the sum and substance
of the retreat. . . . We must live this life now. . . . If we
do not learn to enjoy God now we never will. (Long Loneliness,
During the last year of World War II, Dorothy and the Catholic
Workers decided to turn one of the houses at the farm in Easton,
Pennsylvania, into a retreat house. They began sponsoring retreats
every few months that challenged participants to examine their
conscience about the work they did, their material goods, and
their attachments. Dorothy said that the style of the retreats
"should be like a shock treatment," bringing new life
by dying to the old self (Long Loneliness,
p. 259). Eventually they sold the Easton farm and acquired Maryfarm
in Newburgh, New York, where they continued the retreat work.
The retreats nourished Dorothy's spirit even though some members
objected to their tone and emphasis. Coming after the first flush
of success of the movement in the 1930s and during a time when
Dorothy was a lone voice for pacifism and justice, the retreats
helped Dorothy turn her prophetic witness toward the atomic age,
civil rights, and later, to pacifism again when Vietnam dominated
War Ends: The Struggle Continues
After World War II, only eleven Catholic Worker houses still carried
on. So in 1946, Dorothy visited each one, trying to encourage
the workers and reinvigorate the movement. A few commentators
suggested at the time that the Catholic Worker Movement was a
thing of the past, but Dorothy insisted that the need for servants
of poor people was as relevant as ever. She was stung, however,
by the criticism. The circulation of the newspaper was 190,000
in 1938, but largely because of its pacifist stand it now stood
In February of 1946, Dorothy began calling her column, "On
Pilgrimage." In her own personal style, she chronicled the
Catholic Worker Movement, commented on events, and talked about
the books she was reading. She always looked at things from a
spiritual point of view. Letters poured in, and Dorothy answered
many of them, often using her travel time to catch up on correspondence.
With the war behind the country, Dorothy and The Catholic Worker
continued to critique industrial capitalism and especially the
popular notion that machines liberated the worker. Dorothy argued
that most factory work debased work and the worker. She favored
decentralization and local or regional solutions to problems.
Dorothy did not reject all machine technology; indeed, she relished
driving cars. However, she felt that work should be creative and
humanizing rather than mechanical and dehumanizing. When critics
labeled her an anarchist or socialist, she responded by calling
herself a Christian personalist.
Then Peter Maurin died on 15 May 1949. He had spent the last
years of his life at the Catholic Worker farm in Newburgh, New
York. To Dorothy, Peter Maurin was her teacher and the Saint Francis
of our times. She continued to eulogize him in her writings for
the rest of her life. Peter's death was a deep, personal loss.
Carrying on the Worker movement, fostering the retreat movement,
and caring for her family filled Dorothy's days. Tamar had married
and started her own family. In 1948 Dorothy spent an extended
time with Tamar and her husband, David Hennessy, at their farm
in West Virginia as Tamar awaited the birth of her fourth child.
The country air and her playful grandchildren delighted Dorothy.
She wrote about this in her book On Pilgrimage.
For Dorothy, these few years again proved a time of deepening,
of acquiring a more profound sense of her vocation and mission.
Her writing for The Catholic Worker and other periodicals continued.
Dorothy's daily life consisted of practicing her spiritual devotions
(Mass, parts of the Divine Office, meditation and reading, and
other prayers), getting the paper out, traveling and speaking
frequently, and managing the New York Worker houses. This rhythm
provided a faithful regularity to her life.
The Catholic Worker had been arguing against the A-bomb since
Hiroshima, and the subject was about to become a personal cause
for Dorothy Day. In 1955, Dorothy, a group of Catholic Workers,
and others led protests against New York City's civil defense
law. They declared that the air-raid drills deceived people into
believing that they could actually survive a nuclear attack. So
instead of taking shelter as the sirens sounded to begin the drill,
Dorothy and the protesters merely sat on park benches. During
the six years these drills occurred, they repeated their protests.
Dorothy was jailed three times, once for a month. From this experience,
Dorothy penned several strong articles about life in prison.
The Catholic Worker was now an established and distinctive voice
within Catholic journalism. During the McCarthy-era of anti-Communism,
some charged that The Catholic Worker supported communism. But
anyone who studied the paper knew that "the personalist position
of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day . . . was the most fundamental
and clear-cut anticommunist idea and program that had been defined
by an American Catholic voice" (William D. Miller, Dorothy
A Biography, p. 434).
Dorothy's autobiography, The Long Loneliness, published in 1952,
made her life and vision available to a wide readership, especially
since it was broadly reviewed. Some years later, Dorothy wrote
Therese, her biography of Thérèse of Lisieux.
Turbulence marked the 1960s. Characteristically, Dorothy and the
Catholic Worker Movement responded. Since its beginnings in 1933,
The Catholic Worker had carried articles about racism, the exploitation
of black labor, and justice for minorities. When the civil rights
movement gained momentum in the 1960s, other articles added a
clear voice for equality and justice among people of all races.
When Martin Luther King was killed, Dorothy wrote:
Martin Luther King died daily, as St. Paul said. He faced death
daily and said a number of times that he knew he would be killed
for the faith that was in him. The faith that men could live together
as brothers. The faith in the Gospel teaching of nonviolence.
The faith that man is capable of change, of growth, of growing
in love. (Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, April 1968)
During the Vietnam war, Dorothy actively supported conscientious
objectors and advocated only nonviolent protest. Dorothy was among
the small group of people that started American PAX, later to
become Pax Christi. The name change delighted Dorothy because
she believed that Christ stood at the heart of true peace.
Dorothy admired the enthusiasm, energy, and outrage at injustice
of the many young people who joined the Catholic Worker Movement
during this period. However, elements of their lifestyle troubled
her, perhaps because they seemed to mirror the mistakes of her
own youthful searching.
In 1963 Dorothy traveled to the Vatican in support of Pope John
XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris and to ask for a more radical
condemnation of the instruments of modern warfare. Later that
year, she spoke at an English Catholic Conference on voluntary
poverty, draft resistance, civil rights, and pacifism. Also in
1963, her book Loaves and Fishes was published. It tells the story
of the Catholic Worker Movement and some of the people and events
that were significant in its development.
The Catholic Worker Movement acquired a farm at Tivoli, New York,
and it became the best embodiment of all their efforts toward
a retreat and conference center. Beginning in July 1964 and continuing
for the next decade, the PAX Tivoli Conference was held there.
Lively thought, prayer, enjoyment of the arts, and fellowship
In September 1965, Dorothy was part of a PAX delegation to the
last session of the Vatican Council II. The delegation hoped to
influence the bishops to issue a strong peace statement that included
support of conscientious objection, the validity of Gospel nonviolence,
and a ban on nuclear weapons. Dorothy and nineteen other women
fasted for ten days as a penitential offering for the success
of the council. Eventually the council published "The Church
in the Modern World," which included a condemnation of indiscriminate
warfare, supported conscientious objection, linked arms expenditures
with the unmet needs of poor people, and pointed to Gospel nonviolence
as a conscionable position for Catholics. Dorothy's personal account
of this decade appeared in a collection of her reflections entitled
On Pilgrimage: The Sixties (1972).
Her Last Years
In 1970, as Dorothy was speaking in Detroit, a nurse in the audience
pointed out that Dorothy needed medical attention. At age seventy-three,
Dorothy suffered from shortness of breath that came from water
in her lungs, hardening of the arteries, and an enlarged heart.
Medicine somewhat relieved the condition, but her heart was failing.
Although Dorothy tired easily, she accompanied her close friend
Eileen Egan on a world tour and then on a journey to Russia in
the next year. In India, she met Mother Teresa and spoke to the
novice sisters about going to prison for the sake of the Gospels.
Dorothy was widely known by this time, and many groups honored
her for the goodness of her life and her work on behalf of peace
and justice. But the traveling, and even the honors, took a further
toll on her body.
In 1973, at age seventy-six, Dorothy joined Cesar Chavez and
the United Farm Workers in California's San Joaquin Valley for
a nonviolent demonstration against the Teamsters Union (IBT).
She was arrested with other protesters and jailed for ten days.
This was Dorothy's last imprisonment.
Although Dorothy needed long periods of rest, she continued to
struggle with the rapid pace of change and the erosion of traditional
practice in the church and among the followers of the movement.
She chided herself as an old fogy, but lamented that so many young
workers seemed to turn away from sustaining religious practices.
Perhaps reliving her own youthful searching piqued her sadness.
Her faith had challenged and comforted her, but the exodus of
so many priests and religious distressed her.
Her speech before the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia on
6 August 1976 was her last. Dorothy departed from her prepared
text and spoke from the heart about her love of God, about the
necessity of taking that love into all creation, and about the
church that gave her the life of the Spirit. True to form, she
reminded the assembly that the day was Hiroshima Day and that
acts of destruction directly opposed God who "gave us life,
and the Eucharist to sustain our life" (Miller, Dorothy Day,
Shortly after this talk, Dorothy suffered a heart attack. Virtually
confined to bed, she wrote a few letters when her strength permitted.
Her daughter and grandchildren made frequent visits. She died
in the early evening of 29 November 1980 with Tamar at her side.
So many people came to her funeral at Nativity Church in New
York City that many had to stand outside on the sidewalk. During
her life, Dorothy Day refused to let people "dismiss her
as a saint" (Eileen Egan, Dorothy Day and the Permanent Revolution,
p. 19). At her death, many of her admirers used the word openly.
A "permanent revolution" had been initiated by Dorothy's
leadership, grounded in the Sermon on the Mount for which she
had "prayed, spoken, written, fasted, protested, suffered
humiliation and gone to prison" (p. 25).
Two broad spiritual streams came together in Dorothy Day's character,
and each stream contributed to her spirituality. As an American
born into a Protestant family that valued education and literacy,
she was a pragmatist, a worker, and a woman of action. After her
conversion, these traits united with the traditions of Roman Catholicism:
the teachings of the papal social encyclicals, the sacramental
and liturgical life and sense of sacramentality, and the devotion
to and imitation of the saints and mystics. Dorothy's love of
the Scriptures came from her Protestant roots and predated the
widespread use of the Bible by lay Catholics.
Dorothy Day's spirituality is marked by these characteristics:
Love of Scripture: Throughout her life, Dorothy received
comfort and inspiration from the Bible, especially the Psalms,
the Pauline writings, and the Gospels. They were part of her daily
meditation, and scripture verses and images spontaneously wove
themselves into her writings. The example and teachings of Christ
were at the heart of her spirituality.
Solidarity with the Poor: In the Catholic Worker community,
Dorothy shared her daily energies with and on behalf of poor people.
Her writings, direct practice of the works of mercy, and her own
voluntary poverty bound her to poor, homeless, sick, and desperate
Personalism: Dorothy loved doing works of mercy because
they allowed her to take direct and immediate action for her brothers
and sisters in Christ and against the ills of society that robbed
them of their life, freedom, and dignity. Her engagement with
other people flowed from her wholeness as a person; her heart
and mind were cultivated through her reading, reflection, conversations,
writing, and worship. She wanted the fullness of life for herself
and every person.
Prophetic Witness: By her public words and work, Dorothy
sought to imitate Christ's witness against injustice, even when
such witness seemed folly. Like Christ, she was critical of the
powers and structures of injustice and endured ridicule and opposition
for her witness.
Peacemaking: A steadfast pacifist, Dorothy opposed all
wars and the use of force and violence to solve human problems.
She practiced and promoted human dignity with the spiritual weapons
of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, civil disobedience, and works
of amendment. Like Jesus, the woman at the well, and Saint Paul,
she took her message to the people in the streets.
A Sacramental Sense: Dorothy looked to sacramental celebrations,
especially the Eucharist, for daily spiritual sustenance, and
she saw the world, its people and all of nature, to be full of
God's grandeur and love as well.
Gratitude: In good times and in bad, Dorothy had a keen
sense of appreciation and learned to trust in the providence of
God. Dorothy regularly expressed gratitude not only to God but
to those around her and to The Catholic Worker's readers.
Dorothy for Today
Although Dorothy spurned the suggestion that she was a saint,
she took seriously the importance of becoming one; saintly people
could heal the ills of this world. God created the Mystical Body
of Christ for holiness, wholeness, and sanctity. Jesus took on
humanity to show people how to be godly through acting justly,
loving tenderly, and walking humbly. The Holy Spirit continually
invites all Christians to holiness.
Dorothy Day provides a contemporary model of the qualities of
holiness: solidarity with and service to God's poor, promoting
and being willing to suffer for justice, acting in charity, living
in community, integrating faith and action through prayer, sacred
ritual, and meditation. Dorothy Day may not always be a comfortable
companion on the spiritual journey, but she will certainly be
a wise, caring, and challenging one.
Reprinted with permission from Praying With Dorothy Day
by James Allaire and Rosemary Broughton which is published by
St. Mary's Press, Winona, MN. (The book is currently out of print.)