Would “Saint” Dorothy Day like that?

In just about any article or bio of Dorothy Day, one of the first quotes you’ll come across that is ascribed to her is, “Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” One the heels of news that the USCCB has enthusiastically endorsed her cause Father James Martin, S.J. talks to Robert Ellsberg (who edited her wonderful diaries for The Duty of Delight) about that remark, what it means, and in what context Dorothy might have made it:

Dorothy’s own relationship with saints was anything but cynical. Both her daily speech and her writings were filled with references to St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Teresa of Avila. She treasured their stories. For Dorothy these were not idealized super-humans, but her constant companions and daily guides in the imitation of Christ. She relished the human details of their struggles to be faithful, realizing full well that in their own time they were often regarded as eccentrics or dangerous troublemakers.

But she didn’t just study their life and writings. She also firmly believed in their role as heavenly patrons. Whenever funds or provisions ran low she would “petition” St. Joseph. She would pray to St. Therese for patience and understanding. She would pray to St. Francis to increase her spirit of poverty. For many years, the Catholic Worker was largely illustrated by woodcuts by Ade Bethune depicting the saints in everyday dress, performing the works of mercy. She devoted many years of her life writing a life of St. Therese of Lisieux. I have no doubt she would have delighted in the news that St. Therese was named a Doctor of the Church. It is unthinkable that she would have responded by saying, “That means basically that Therese is not to be taken seriously!”

Read it all here.

Interestingly, as the news broke yesterday, on and hit Twitter, Brandon Vogt wondered whether Dorothy might eventually become the Patron Saint of Post-Abortive women or women considering abortion. Or, he considered, the bridge between the Marys of contemplation and the Martha’s of active apostolate. I can see either or both. But I personally think Dorothy could be a powerful bridge between the sad, unnecessary and increasingly destructive chasm that has opened between “life” and “social justice” Catholics. We need a patron standing over that needless divide, and Day was as coherent on the dangers of too much government intervention dooming people to poverty as she was on the absolutely responsibility we each have to look out for one-another. She was of-a-piece, through and through, cohesive on “life” and “social justice.” The full package, and always, in her own words,”an obedient daughter of the church.”

Speaking of Saints, Frank Weathers goes all manly on us today!


Happy Birthday, Dorothy Day!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Peggy m

    I think it would be uncharacteristic of a truly saintly person to consider themselves as saintly. they would have different reasons—saints come in all sizes—but ultimately they are probably all humble when it comes to their self-assessment. Most probably think they are only doing what they ought.

    They remind me of people who are truly brave or heroic. How many of those people say, “yes, I am a hero”. Most seem to scoff and dismiss the very idea (“There’s nothing heroic about being shot out of the sky”—George H.W.Bush). Honest humility is consistently present in the virtuous.

  • Kitty

    The one thing that has always had me troubled/confused about her was her militant pacifism. I can’t square that with Catholic teaching. E.g. if someone had a gun to your child’s head and you could pick them off with your own gun, I think it’s required that you do it. From what I’ve read, she wouldn’t ever do that. That just can’t be right.

  • deiseach

    That’s what the saints do – they challenge us. Dorothy Day was cutting off the excuse so many of us give: “I’m only an ordinary Catholic, I’m not like him/her – he or she is a saint, they’re special!”

    She was telling us “I’m an ordinary Catholic too, and if I can do it, so can you.”

  • http://ayearoflivingadventurously.wordpress.com Emily

    Kitty, I totally agree. That is a big stumbling block for me. I mean, if WWII wasn’t a justified war, someone want to tell me what was?

  • Ted Seeber

    Doesn’t the abortion kind of remove the possibility of her becoming a Saint?

    [A question that misunderstands everything about the issue of sin, repentance and mercy, I think. Misunderstands it badly. Or do you just pretend to? -admin]

  • http://ayearoflivingadventurously.wordpress.com Emily

    No….look at St. Augustine…a lot of saints had, um, “misadventures” In their past lives.

  • Jenny

    No the abortion does not remove the possibility of her becoming a Saint! Did she not repent? Was she not absolved? Is that sin so much more horrible than all the others that repentance and absolution and a lifetime of penance in restitution just isn’t good enough? I am not easily offended, but I find that notion quite offensive.

  • Francis

    Mr Seeber, I think I can only conclude that you know very little about Catholicism specifically or Christianity generally.

  • Bill

    Ted Seeber is a passionate and devout Catholic from my encounters with him on Mark’s blog so I will give him the benefit of the doubt

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    Just some thoughts:

    1. No Ted, I don’t believe the abortion prevents her from being a saint. From what I understand she was very repentant over it.

    2. I really like Voight’s idea of her being the patron saint of post abortion. Very fitting.

    3. I think her becoming a saint will have zero impact on the divide between “social justice” and pro-life Catholics. The divide goes beyond those issues and to the over arching cultural values themselves.

    4. Kitty we have lots of saints that were pacifists. We also have saints that weren’t. We need a mix to reflect the entire spectrum. I greatly admire Joan of Arc. I think we need to pray to St Joan to firm up our spine in this religious freedom fight that will be upon us.

  • Ellen

    I have trouble with Dorothy Day’s extreme pacifism, but I have no doubt as to her saintliness.

  • Dan C

    It is a bit deceptive to note that Dorothy is one of those who has the Faith of Small Governmentalism (in which one, like Joe Carter, rewrites the Bible to fit the politics to which he adheres). She was an anarcho-communitarian who was a pacifist and would not likely not take a dime from Grover Norquist.

    In terms of abortion, because its always abortion as soon as one talks about social justice on right wing blogs, Dorothy was highly reticent to discuss her past. She was not proud of her days of misadventure and pre-conversion sinfulness. She was reticent to discuss these actions. These are in stark contrast to the tell-all messes of today, which even infiltrates the conservative Catholic blog-lands of those who can’t help reminding us of their wayward days (I think of Corapi) as a note.

    She was inconsistent, she loved and visited Cuba. She hated the military and didn’t pay taxes. She rejected donations from wealthy Catholics who treated their workers unfairly and told them so (insisting they give that money back to their workers).

    Dorothy, when discussed on right wing blogs, is pious and advocates for lower taxes. I think she advocated instead for no military and would be horrified and the embedded self-centeredness (even with fears of encroching large government) that the Small Government folks want. She would remind Small Government folks of her long-time advocacy-to show ancient monastic hospitality by maintaining a “Christ Room” in every home-not just for one’s family (the routine reflex) but for the undeserved poor, the “bad poor” who filled Dorothy’s daily life in community.

    The undeserved poor, radical pacifism, hospitality, community, writing, prayer and the Sacraments filled her life. Dorothy founded the Catholic Worker after participation in large marches in DC in 1932 to seek advocacy for the poor. She would found little common ground at all with Small Governmentalists, who existed in the 1940′s, but who she rejected as far from her faith.

    [I never said Dorothy was a "small governmentalist". But she understood that it was not the answer to all problems, either, and that too much government was too much. She was a Benedictine. She sought balance. -admin]

  • Dan C

    Abortion was rarely discussed by her. She rarely wrote of it, or about the sexual revolution, and she participated in one sexual revolution in the 1910′s, advocating for birth control. She spent little attention to it and instead focused on rejecting and protesting war, capitalism, and pursued justice for laborers by supporting unions- like Cesar Chavez’s movement. There were few politics-free essays. Good luck squaring that with The First Things political party of Christian Conservative Action.

  • http://www.patheos.com Amy

    Dorothy Day became a “servant” of the Lord. Should she be made “venerable,” a miracle will have to happen for her to be “blessed.” If it is God’s will, be glad and rejoice!

  • Mary

    “passionate and devout Catholic “? Possibly. Extremely badly catechized? Definitely.

    The healthy do not need a physician, Ted.

  • Dan C

    “Don’t call me a saint” refers to to aspects-one is a matter of the virtue of humility, as well as a particular reticence to speak of herself. Note within her writings, she shares few life details.

    Additionally, she knew that an interpretation of her as “saintly” does dismiss her: first, by the pious (who will more likely read this blog than NCReporter), they will cling to her acts of piety and dismiss as weird and inconsistent her radical politics without delving into how they are bound in practice (not just in the uber present land of “chat” and “communication”-talk was cheap for her). Second, the works she did and wants all to do will be more easily dismissed again if she is perceived to be that radiation-transformed super-hero of Catholicism-a saint. Such means what she does is out of the grasp of those who aren’t Catholic X-men.

    She once commented that she was asked if she had visions, by one of the Piety-class of Catholics. She indicated her reply was sharp and quick: Yes, visions of piles of unpaid bills.