Today is the 35th anniversary of the death of the radical catholic activist, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s.
She was a journalist who, after converting to Catholicism, worked in New York, running a house of hospitality for homeless people and working for peace through her writing, protest and civil disobedience.
She edited the Catholic Worker paper from 1933 up to her death in 1980. She was arrested many times for protesting against war and for refusing to pay federal tax because of its use to pay for nuclear weapons.
Her unflinching commitment and passionate faith has inspired many others. Recently in a high-profile speech to US Congress, Pope Francis mentioned four Americans who inspired him: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton. The fourth was Dorothy Day:
“In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”
Personal and political
Like all truly radical Christians, Dorothy Day brought together a deeply personal commitment to faith in Jesus Christ and service in his name, along with a fully fledged commitment to living this faith out politically. This means some of her views are uncomfortable for people on both sides of the political spectrum. On economics, she was an unflinching socialist; but she was equally adamant in her opposition to abortion.
One of her most famous quotes summed up this fusion of the personal and political:
“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”
As with all ‘famous’ activists, we should remember that it is only in hindsight that their work becomes glamorous. For those who feel they are struggling day by day to make a difference in small ways, when the problems of the world seem so overwhelming, her words are particularly helpful:
“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.”
- Watch a 10 minute TV interview with Dorothy Day from 1973
- See the website of the London Catholic Worker