Last November the Catholic Bishops of the United States unanimously endorsed Dorothy Day for sainthood. Though I am no longer a Catholic, Dorothy Day has remained one of my favorite heroes. Her work with Peter Maurin in creating the Catholic Worker newspaper and movement has been an avenue for many people to help the homeless, the outcasts of society, and to take part in the nonviolent struggle against poverty and war. Dorothy Day drew out the radical message that lies at the heart of Jesus’ message to mankind, to offer a radical love of all people and to reach out to the poor, the homeless, the outcasts of our society.
I was actually surprised that the bishops of today, who are generally more conservative than Dorothy Day, are championing the veneration of this radical Christian anarchist. Yet if you look closely at the teaching of the Catholic Church, it does not fit easily into the normal liberal/conservative lines that are often drawn in American politics. In family values issues and in many women’s issues, like divorce, abortion, and contraception, the Catholic Church falls in the conservative part of the political spectrum. Yet on economic justice issues, on environmental issues, and on issues of war and peace, Catholic Social Teaching is to the far left of the American political spectrum. Papal encyclicals like Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno offer a radical critique of the capitalist system of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This radical economic critique is what drew radical anarchist Dorothy Day to become a Catholic in the 1920s, as she noticed that many of the poor that her anarchist, socialist and marxist friends were trying to help attended Catholic Masses every Sunday.
Michael Kazin write about the subversive nature of Dorothy Day in the article Hallelujah! The Conservative Catholic Hierarchy Taps An American Anarchist For Sainthood for the November 29, 2012 edition of the New Republic:
Yet, Dorothy Day was far more than just a social worker equally dedicated to her Church and to the poor. She was a political radical, whose beliefs and activism often got her into trouble with the predecessors of the Catholic hierarchs who now seek to canonize her. In fact, it would indeed be a small miracle if today’s Church leaders took stands resembling those which Day advocated with unwavering devotion.
An absolute pacifist, she incurred the resentment of Church authorities for opposing U.S. involvement in World War II and subsequent forays into Korea and Indochina. She mentored the Catholic activists who broke into a government office and poured homemade napalm on draft files in 1968 to protest the Vietnam war. And Day was such a resolute champion of labor that, in 1949, she even backed a gravediggers’ strike against a Catholic cemetery in New York City. When the powerful archbishop, Francis Cardinal Spellman, ordered seminary students to break the strike, she denounced him for bringing “so overwhelming a show of force against a handful of poor working men.” What Spellman did, she added bitterly, was “a temptation of the devil to that most awful of all wars, the war between the clergy and the laity.”
To appreciate Dorothy Day, one just has to look at the Catholic Worker Movement that Day and her friend Peter Maurin founded. Today there are 213 Catholic Worker communities committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken. They practice the Works of Mercy based on Matthew 25:31-40 which says:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
If you want to contact a local Catholic Worker in your area, you can visit this link with the various websites of Catholic Worker communities. Below are a list of various Catholic Worker blogs:
Here are some Catholic Worker Facebook pages:
I scoured through youtube to find videos of the work of the Catholic Worker communities in farms and hospitality houses, to feed the poor and shelter the homeless, to protest against war and economic injustice. They are keeping alive the radical and subversive Christian message that Dorothy Day’s life exemplifies.
A youtube video of the Bethany House of Hospitality, Rochester Catholic Worker
A youtube video of the Hippie Kitchen, of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker
Frank Cordaro talks about the 35th anniversary of the Des Moines Catholic Worker
An interview with Jenny Truax of the St. Louis Catholic Worker
Catholic Worker and Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative NonViolence Brian Terrell talks about trespassing at Whiteman Air Force Base to protest drone warfare
A California Catholic Worker Farm that hosts people who are HIV+ and other groups
A Catholic Worker peace protest against NATO during 2012
Ciaron O’Reilly of the Catholic Worker at a vigil for Bradley Manning at the U.S. Embassy in London
The Midwest Catholic Worker perform a Die-In to protest the Strategic Air Command Arms Bazaar which awards contracts to the manufacturers of space weapons
A Catholic Worker Band protest in New Jersey against an immigrant detention center accused of inhumane conditions
Frank Cordaro, a Catholic worker, introduces the panel “Occupy the World Food: Why Corporate Agriculture is Wrong”
On May 2, 2011, Catholic Workers protest the construction site for the new Honeywell plant of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Kansas City