Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day (1897-1980)


– Brother John Samaha, S.M.

Although baptized an Episcopalian, Dorothy Day might be characterized as an evangelical Protestant because of her involvement in the "social gospel" movement. She was a talented journalist who espoused radical causes, wrote for socialist newspapers, and was staunch in her support of labor unions and of pacifism.

Her earliest contacts with Mary came through a rosary and a small statue. While anticipating the birth of her daughter through a common law marriage, Dorothy Day began taking instructions so that her daughter could be baptized in the Catholic Church. "I began to think, to weigh things," she explained, "and it was at this moment that I began consciously to pray more." She developed the habits of praying often, of carrying a rosary, and addressing the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which had been given her. Deeply concerned about her daughter, Dorothy wrote that she "turned her over to the Blessed Mother."

"What kind of a mother am I going to be? I keep thinking to myself what kind of a Catholic home is she going to have with only me? I'm a failure as a homemaker, I'm untidy, inconsistent, undisciplined, temperamental, and I have to pray every day for final perseverance. It is only in these last few years that it has occurred to me why my daughter never called me 'mother.' The Blessed Virgin Mary is Mother of my child. No harm can ever come to her with such a mother."

With Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement, which strove to establish solidarity with the working classes through a generous and convincing witness of hospitality for the homeless and of the works of mercy. She promoted the traditional devotions in all her communities. She prayed the rosary "on the picket lines, in prisons, in sickness and in health." For her, the rosary was not only a devotion to Mary but also a way of identifying with the poor who had lost hope. "Who could have given me Our Lord, but the Virgin Mary? It was easy to pray to her, repetitious though it may seem. Saying the rosary as I did so often, I felt that I was praying with the people of God, who held on to the physical act of the rosary as to a lifeline."

The life and spirit of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, fascinated Dorothy Day, "perhaps because she was so much like the rest of us in her ordinariness." In fact she authored a small book about St. Therese to offer hope to those who felt their lives were meaningless. She regarded Therese as Therese regarded Mary, for Therese abhorred writings and sermons that described "Mary's life as totally different from ours." Dorothy believed that Therese "speaks to our condition." Her approach, like that of St. Therese and the Blessed Virgin Mary, was to ask prayerfully at the beginning of each day, "What would you have me do?"

For Dorothy Day, Mary and Joseph shared in the plight and insecurity of the poor. During the Great Depression she wrote, "What security did the Blessed Virgin herself have as she fled in the night with the Baby in her arms to go into a strange country? She probably wondered whether St. Joseph would be able to obtain work in a foreign land, how they would get along, and anticipated the loneliness of being without friends, her cousin, St. Elizabeth, her kinfolk." At another time she recalled "St. Bonaventure says Our Lady worked in Egypt to earn the family's daily bread because St. Joseph could not earn enough. It was all part of the humiliation of poverty for St. Joseph." The Holy Family definitely shared the lot of the poor.

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