The Real Love of Dorothy Day's Life
Mark & Louise Zwick


Will the real Dorothy Day please stand up

Is the real Dorothy a social worker, a controversial radical peacemaker or a saint in the best of the Churchís tradition? We believe Dorothy Day, who died Nov. 29, 1980, was a real saint - a contemplative and a mystic.

From her earliest years, long before she converted to Catholicism at age 30, Dorothy longed for the Lord and Source of love. At 15, her letters revealed that she was struggling with the meaning of the Acts of the Apostles.

Her longing grew side by side with a consciousness of the suffering and needs of the poor and the scriptural mandates to help them. She could not understand why Christians did not live the message of the Gospels.

Her life story has been repeated often and is told by Dorothy herself in her autobiography, "The Long Loneliness." 

Her prayers for Godís direction of her talents were answered when she met Peter Maurin, a French peasant and philosopher, who introduced her to the ideas that led to the founding of the Catholic Worker in 1932.

Dorothy credited Peter Maurin with teaching her everything she knew. He introduced her to the great Catholic saints and writers of history, to the great traditions of Catholicism, and put flesh on Catholic social teaching for her.

Catholic authors from the so-called personalist movement in France provided much of the intellectual base for the Catholic Worker movement and its practical response in service to the Gospels. The thought of Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain and other authors from the movement also influenced Dorothyís spirituality.

These authors emphasized the need to bring religious values to the moral and social issues of the day, the dignity of the human person both as an individual and as a "participant member of human society," and taking personal responsibility.

They criticized the middle-class ( "bourgeois") world of consumerism, acquisitiveness and comfort-seeking, and called for Catholics to respond with heroic actions aimed at making themselves holier and changing their society.

They raised important questions that remain important for Catholics today. Dorothy Day combined these personalist beliefs with a commitment to practising what the Church has traditionally called the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

(The corporal works are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, ransoming the captive and burying the dead. The spiritual works are instructing the ignorant, correcting sinners, advising the doubtful, showing patience to sinners and those in error, forgiving others, comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and dead.) 

All the writers who influenced Dorothy Day call for sanctity and a radical return to Gospel living. They taught that the laity must follow the universal call to holiness and are called to be leaven for good in the world. The laity is not permitted to say: "I canít do this because I am not a priest or sister." ......

Dorothy Dayís spirituality was centered on Jesus Christ. She never ceased to consider the Eucharist as the greatest work of the day, both for herself and for the Catholic workers. Her entire life was a meeting with Christ, whether she met Him in human guise in the poor, or in the Eucharist disguised in word and human symbol, intimately transforming her so that she could say with St. Paul, "Now, not I live, but Jesus Christ in me" (Gal. 2:20).

Dorothy Day believed that prayer was the first duty of all those working for social justice, and that only that which was done "for Christ and with Christ" was of value.