Dorthy Day Dorothy Day It seems that to some people that they give more so society than others, but than there is one woman, who gave her life to society to help others though giving and sharing and helped people through a time of need. Yet there seems to be few there is. Dorothy Day, patron of the Catholic Worker movement, was born in Brooklyn, on New York, November 8, 1897. After surviving the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, the Day family moved into a tenement flat in Chicago’s South Side. It was a big step down in the world made necessary because Dorothys father was out of work.
Day’s understanding of the shame people feel when they fail in their efforts dated from this time. It was in Chicago that Day began to form positive impressions of Catholicism. Day recalled. when her father was appointed sports editor of a Chicago newspaper, the Day family moved into a comfortable house on the North Side. Here Dorothy began to read books that affected her conscience. Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, inspired Day to take long walks in poor neighborhoods in Chicago’s South Side.
It was the start of a life-long attraction to areas many people avoid. Day won a scholarship that brought her to the University of Illinois campus at Urbana in the fall of 1914. However, she was a reluctant scholar. Her reading was chiefly in a radical social direction. She avoided campus social life and insisted on supporting herself rather than living on money from her father.
Dropping out of college two years later, she moved to New York where she found a job as a reporter for The Call, the city’s only socialist daily. She covered rallies and demonstrations and interviewed people ranging from butlers to labor organizers and revolutionaries. She next worked for The Masses, a magazine that opposed American involvement in the European war. In September, the Post Office rescinded the magazine’s mailing permit. Federal officers seized back issues, manuscripts, subscriber lists and correspondence.
Five editors were charged with sedition. In November 1917 Day went to prison for being one of forty women in front of the White House protesting women’s exclusion from the electorate. Arriving at a rural workhouse, the women were roughly handled. The women responded with a hunger strike. Finally they were freed by presidential order.
Returning to New York, Day felt that journalism was a meager response to a world at war. In the spring of 1918, she signed up for a nurse’s training program in Brooklyn. Her conviction that the social order was unjust changed in no substantial way from her adolescence until her death. Her religious development was a slower process. As a child, she attended services at an Episcopal Church.
As a young journalist in New York, she would sometimes make late night visits to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Sixth Avenue. The Catholic climate of worship appealed to her. While she knew little about Catholic belief, Catholic spiritual discipline fascinated her. She saw the Catholic Church as the church of the immigrants, the church of the poor.
In 1922, while in Chicago working as a reporter, she roomed with three young women who went to Mass every Sunday and holy day and also set aside time each day for prayer. It was clear to her that worship, adoration, thanksgiving, supplication .. were the noblest acts of which we are capable in this life. Her next job was with a newspaper in New Orleans. Living near St.
Louis Cathedral, Day often attended evening Benediction services. Back in New York in 1924, Day bought a beach cottage on Staten Island using money from the sale of movie rights for a novel. She also began a four-year common-law marriage with Forster Batterham, an English botanist she had met through friends in Manhattan. Batterham was an anarchist opposed to marriage and religion. In a world of such cruelty, he found it impossible to believe in a God.
By this time Day’s belief in God was unshakable. It grieved her that Batterham didn’t sense God’s presence within the natural world. How can there be no God, she asked, when there are all these beautiful things? His irritation with her absorption in the supernatural would lead them to quarrel. What moved everything to a different plane for her was pregnancy. She had been pregnant once before, years earlier, as the result of a love affair with a journalist.
This resulted in the great tragedy for her in her life, an abortion. The affair and its awful aftermath had been the subject of her novel, The Eleventh Virgin. The abortion, Day concluded in the years following, had left her barren. For a long time I had thought I could not bear a child, and the longing in my heart for a baby had been growing,she confided in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. My home, I felt, was not a home without one.
Her pregnancy with Batterham seemed to Day nothing less than a miracle. But Batterham didn’t believe in bringing children into such a violent world. On March 3, 1927, Tamar Theresa Day was born. Day could think of nothing better to do with the gratitude that overwhelmed her than arrange Tamar’s baptism in the Catholic Church. I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered.
I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to a Church would give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of the Saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic. After Tamar’s baptism, day split from Batteram permanently. On December 28, Day was received into the Catholic Church. A day commenced in her life as she tried to find a way to bring together her religious faith and her radical social values. In the winter of 1932 Day traveled to Washington, DC, to report for Commonweal and America magazines on the Hunger March.
Day watched on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception the protesters parade down the streets of Washington carrying signs calling for jobs, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, relief for mothers and children, health care and housing. What kept Day in the sidelines was that she was a Catholic and Communists had organized the march, a party at war with not only with capitalism but religion. After witnessing the march, Day went to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where she expressed her torment in prayer: I offered up a special prayer, a prayer which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor. Back in her apartment in New York the next day, Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant 20 years her senior. Maurin, a former Christian Brother, had left France for Canada in 1908 and later made his way to the United States. When he met Day, he was handyman at Catholic boys’ camp in upstate New York, receiving meals, use of the chaplain’s library, living space in the barn and occasional pocket money. During his years of wandering, Maurin had come to a Franciscan attitude, embracing poverty as a vocation.
His celibate, unencumbered life offered time for study and prayer, out of which a vision had taken form of a social order, instilled with basic values of the Gospel in which it would be easier for men to be good. A born teacher, he found willing listeners, among them George Shuster, editor of Commonweal magazine, who gave him Day’s address. As remarkable as the providence of their meeting was Day’s willingness to listen. It seemed to her he was an answer to her prayers, someone who could help her discover what she was supposed to do. What Day should do, Maurin said, was start a paper to publicize Catholic social teaching and promote steps to bring about the peaceful transformation of society. Day readily embraced the idea. If family past work experience and religious faith had prepared her for anything, it was this.
Day found that the Paulist Press was willing to print 2,500 copies of an eight-page tabloid paper for $57. Her kitchen was the new paper’s editorial office. She decided to sell the paper for a penny a copy, so cheap that anyone could afford to buy it. On May 1, the first copies of The Catholic Worker were handed out on Union Square. Few publishing ventures meet with such immediate success.
By December, 100,000 copies were being printed each month. In The Catholic Workers, readers found a unique voice. It expressed dissatisfaction with the social order and took the side of labor unions, but its vision of the ideal future challenged both urbanization and industrialism. It wasn’t just radical but religious too. The paper didn’t merely complain but called on its readers to make personal responses.
For the first half year The Catholic Worker was only a newspaper. Maurin’s essays in the paper were calling for renewal of the ancient Christian practice of hospitality to those who were homeless. In this way followers of Christ could respond to Jesus’ words: I was a stranger and you took me in. Maurin opposed the idea that Christians should take care only of their friends and leave care of strangers to impersonal charitable agencies. Every home should have its Christ Room and every parish a house of hospitality ready to receive the ambassadors of God, but as winter approached, homeless people began to knock on the door.
Surrounded by people in need and attracting volunteers excited about ideas they discovered in The Catholic Worker, it was certain that the editors would soon be given the chance to put their beliefs into practice. Day’s apartment was the seed of many houses of hospitality to come. By the wintertime, an apartment was rented with space for ten women, soon after a place for men. Next came a house in Greenwich Village. In 1936 the community moved into two buildings in Chinatown, but no enlargement could possibly find room for all those in need. Mainly they were men, gray men, the color of lifeless trees and bushes and winter soil, who had in them as yet none of the green of hope, the rising sap of faith.
Many people were surprise …