The radical and faithful witness of Dorothy Day

Jared Staudt

Saint Dorothy Day? A former communist who had an abortion does not fit the mold of the normal candidate for canonization; yet her conversion witnesses to the power of God’s grace. Day’s commitment to social justice, combined with her deep faith and devotion, led the Archdiocese of New York to open her cause for sainthood in the year 2000. Personally, I have been deeply inspired by Day and the Catholic Worker Movement she founded with Peter Maurin. Together, Day and Maurin powerfully witness that that it is possible to live the Gospel in a radical way even in the difficult circumstances of our society.

Dr. Terrence Wright, who teaches at the Archdiocese’s St. John Vianney Seminary, recently wrote a short and accessible book: Dorothy Day: An Introduction to Her Life and Thought (Ignatius, 2018). Wright recognizes that “because of her life, her writings, and her political stands, Day remains a controversial figure, but she also serves as a challenge to Catholics and non-Catholics alike to reflect on Christ’s call for us to serve the least of our brothers” (14). He also notes that many people have the mistaken view of Day as a dissenter from Catholic teaching, even though she was “a Catholic who thinks that the teachings of the Church are right,” even on controversial topics (13).

Like St. Augustine, Day suffered through the social and spiritual problems of her time, yet found God in their midst. She felt acutely the social crisis of the early twentieth century, which drew her to Communism, but her own broken relationships kept her yearning for deeper fulfillment. After becoming a mother, she made the difficult choice of breaking with her past and entering the Church with her daughter, Tamar. It was not until she met Peter Maurin in 1932 that she realized how her passion for social justice could shape her life as a Catholic. Maurin introduced her to the Church’s social teaching and inspired her with a threefold plan to communicate this teaching through the Catholic Worker newspaper and roundtable discussions, to open houses of hospitality, and to gather people for work and retreats on farms.

Wright explores both the intellectual and spiritual foundations of Day’s life and work. Inspired by the Church’s teaching and the Catholic tradition, especially monastic spirituality and hospitality, Day and Maurin sought a personalist response to the social crisis. They took both subsidiarity and solidarity seriously in affirming the dignity of each person they served, rather than seeking an institutional response. Maurin recognized the spiritual problem of “the state doing things for people instead of people doing things for each other” (57). Therefore, the Catholic Worker Movement embraced voluntary poverty, as well as common work and prayer, to live with the poor, fighting “for justice or human rights [not] in the abstract but . . . in the concrete local scene” (79). Ultimately, Day founded a spiritual movement, drawing from the liturgy and the works of mercy to serve “our neighbor’s whole being, body and soul” (101).

Part of Day’s radical witness, explored at length by Wright, her pacifism, places her outside the Catholic mainstream, as she pointed to the injustice of modern warfare and encouraged Christians to embrace the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Wright relates how “Day’s position was based primarily on two Catholic principles. First is the teaching that all human beings are members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ. . . This teaching also led her to see violence against any member of the human community as violence against Christ and against oneself. . . . The second teaching that shaped Day’s pacifism concerns ‘the counsels of perfection'” (122-23). This controversial stance reveals the heart of Day’s spiritual vision: to follow Christ’s teaching radically in the modern world.

As Wright acknowledges, many in the Catholic Worker Movement today have not remained faithful to Day’s spiritual vision and to the Church. Nonetheless, her personal witness and founding of the Movement remain important for inspiring new Christian responses to today’s challenges. I strongly recommend Wright’s book as an entrance into the radical and faithful witness of Servant of God Dorothy Day.

COMING UP: Archdiocese of Denver’s news publications honored with 15 Catholic Press Awards

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Coverage of the More Than You Realize conference and reporting on social justice issues were among the 15 honors the Catholic Press Association awarded the Denver Catholic and El Pueblo Catolico at the recent Catholic media conference in Florida, June 18-21.

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez was also awarded first place for a regular column by a bishop or archbishop in a Spanish publication.

The Denver Catholic received seven awards, including first place best news writing on a local or regional event for the staff’s collaborative coverage of the MTYR conference June 11, 2018, at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.

El Pueblo Catolico received eight awards, including first place for reporting on social justice issues for a story on preventing suicide, and second place for in-depth analysis for a story on the debates surrounding “caravans” of immigrants coming to the United States.

Staff writer Vladimir Mauricio-Pérez, who was recently named the new editor of El Pueblo Catolico, took home four awards – two for articles in the Denver Catholic and two for articles in El Pueblo. For the Denver Catholic, he received a second-place editorial award for a story on the Facebook privacy scandal, and an honorable mention award for a feature story on Blind Faith Brewing.

The publications were also honored with awards for layout, design, interviews and reports.

“I want to congratulate the staff of the Denver Catholic and El Pueblo Catolico for their accomplishments over the past year and the much-deserved recognition they’ve received for their incredible talents,” said Aaron Lambert, Managing Editor. “More importantly, I am thankful for each of their witnesses to Jesus Christ, without whom we would not be able to carry out this mission we’ve been entrusted with. Last but not least, I want to thank the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver for their support, encouragement, comments and feedback, and most of all, for allowing us to tell your stories.”

Denver Catholic

1st Place – Best News Writing on a Local or Regional Event – “Be Not Afraid” https://denvercatholic.org/past-25-years-remembered-next-25-anticipated-at-more-than-you-realize-conference/

2nd Place – Best Editorial on a National or International Issue – “Facebook privacy scandal a wake-up call for Catholics” (Vladimir Mauricio-Perez) https://denvercatholic.org/facebook-privacy-scandal-a-wake-up-call-for-catholics-experts-say/

2nd Place – Best Annual Report http://read.uberflip.com/i/1079667-financial-report-2018

2nd Place – Most Effective Use of Small Space – Bethlehem Handicrafts (Simona Fava, Kim Grace)

3rd Place – Best Print Circulation Promotion Campaign – Julia Greeley Anniversary Mass (Simona Fava)

Honorable Mention – Beat Feature Writing – “Blind Faith Brewing: the new Catholic taproom in town” (Vladimir Mauricio-Perez) https://denvercatholic.org/blind-faith-brewing-new-catholic-taproom-town/

Honorable Mention – Best Layout of Article or Column – “From the Passover Seder to the Eucharist” (Vladimir Mauricio-Perez, Simona Fava)

El Pueblo Catolico

1st Place – Best Reporting on Social Justice Issues – “El suicidio es prevenible, pongamos manos a la obra” (Mavi Barraza)

1st Place – Best Regular Column by a Bishop or Archbishop – “Joven, Cristo te necesita” (Bishop Jorge Rodriguez)

2nd Place – Best In-Depth Analysis – “Mas allá del debate político la ‘caravana’ son nuestros hermanos” (Vladimir Mauricio-Pérez)

2nd Place – Best Coverage – ‘”Bautiza a tu hijo’ Insistió su amiga. Hoy él es sacerdote.” (Carmen Elena Villa)

3rd Place – Best Reporting – “Propuesta de matrimonio en una obra de teatro” (Carmen Elana Villa)

Honorable Mention – Best Interview – “Monseñor Romero me enseñó que vale la pena sacrificarse por el Señor” (Caren Elena Villa)

Honorable Mention – Best Personality Profile – “Maria Antonia: madre que siempre supo decir sí a Dios”(Vladimir Mauricio-Pérez)

Honorable Mention – Best Cover Magazine or Newspaper – El Pueblo Catolico (Simona Fava)