In Ages Past
Giving the Raw Gospel: Catherine De Hueck Doherty (1896-1985)
Advocating Civil Rights could be as deadly as revolutionary Russia. She was spit at and called a "nigger lover." At a Catholic women's group, she was berated for eating "with dirty niggers." When a woman told her, "You smell of the Negro," Catherine lost her temper: "And you stink of hell!" Once at a lecture in Savannah, she was nearly beaten to death by a group of white Catholic women.
"You have to preach the Gospel," Catherine said, "without compromise or shut up. One or the other. I tried to preach it without compromise." She always ended her lectures the same way:
Sooner or later, all of us are going to die. We will appear before God for judgment. The Lord will look at us and say, "I was naked and you didn't clothe me. I was hungry and you didn't give me anything to eat. I was thirsty and you didn't give me a drink. I was sick and you didn't nurse me. I was in prison and you didn't come to visit me." And we shall say, "Lord, when did I not do these things?" I would stop here, pause, and in a very loud voice say, "When I was a Negro and you were a white American Catholic." That's when the rotten eggs and tomatoes would start to fly!
One of her key supporters was New York's Cardinal Patrick J. Hayes, who was "always worried" about her. After she organized a study group at Friendship House, the local pastor visited her:
"Listen to me, you Russian nitwit. What are you trying to do? Make them think they are loved just because they have become Catholics? You are giving them the raw Gospel and it isn't getting you anywhere. Stop it!" I said, "Father, would you like to come with me to see the Cardinal? If he orders me to stop, I will stop." "Oh, hell," he said. On the way out he slammed the door and smashed the glass in the window."
Later Catherine would remarry and move back to Canada, where she continued to be involved in apostolic work. But wherever she worked, she sought to actualize the Gospel message in the present moment. As she once told a Fordham University Jesuit: "I have never read anywhere in the gospel where Christ says to wait twenty years before living the gospel. The Good News is for now."
Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.