Dorothy Day (1897–1980), American Catholic social activist, lived a life of radical commitment to the gospel. As a convert to Catholicism, she loved the church deeply but challenged the church to take its own message seriously. Her spirit of nonviolence and care for the poorest of the poor led her from involvement in socialism to the development of her own particular form of radical Catholicism. Her vision induced her to found the Catholic Worker movement, which survives to this day in over 120 communities across the United States. Born in a journalist home, Day followed her father and became a journalist herself, working for several radical papers, especially The Liberator.
I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
― Dorothy Day
After several affairs, an abortion, and a brief marriage, Dorothy found herself pregnant again and decided to keep the child, a daughter, Tamar, born in 1927. Motherhood caused Dorothy to think seriously about religion. Tamar was baptized over the objections of the child’s atheist father. When Dorothy was baptized as a Roman Catholic later that year, the father left her.
The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” ―Dorothy Day
In 1933 she joined with Peter Maurin, a Christian Brother, and together they became a team for social change. Beginning with the newspaper The Catholic Worker, they moved on to found Houses of Hospitality where those who needed a place to stay were welcome. Although they began in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City, these houses were established in many cities, nearly always in the poorest areas.
People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” ―Dorothy Day
The process for Day’s canonization began in 2012 and continues. Faith was a constant struggle for her, and while she titled her autobiography The Long Loneliness, she was haunted by God from childhood until her death. Among her other books are By Little and by Little, House of Hospitality, Loaves and Fishes, and On Pilgrimage.
Howard L. Rice, The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, ed. Keith Beasley-Topliffe (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2003), 75-76.