- Lived: November 8, 1897 - November 29, 1980 (Modern Era)
- Nationality: American
- Known for: Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement
- Fun Fact: In his speech to Congress, Pope Francis named Dorothy Day one of four inspiring Americans.
- Fun Fact: When Day denounced the actions of the archdiocese against striking workers, Cardinal Spellman ordered her to remove the work “Catholic” from her publication’s title. She refused.
- Fun Fact:
Dorothy Day was a journalist and social activist who, after converting to Catholicism, cofounded the Catholic Workers’ Movement and helped shape Catholic social justice activism for generations to follow, including silent vigils, nonviolent direct action, and civil disobedience.
A strong advocate of distributism, a Catholic economic model popularized by G.K. Chesterton, Day helped put her into action through the Catholic Worker Movement—a group of networked communities, providing food and housing to homeless, while also modelling a communitarian lifestyle. The workers live together in a house, in close community, and hosting homeless guests.
Day was born in Brooklyn Heights, NY into a nonreligious Episcopalian family. Her father was a sports journalist and they relocated several times in her childhood for jobs. At 10, while accompanying her brothers who sang in the choir to church each week, Day fell in love with the liturgy and scripture study. She was baptized and confirmed at 14.
As a teen, Day read the Russian Realists and other authors who used narrative fiction to highlight social issues. She also encountered the decentralized communitarian ideas of Peter Kropotkin, founder of anarcho-communism, which greatly influenced her later work. She immersed herself in the world of New York communist intellectuals, as friends and lovers.
In her late 20s, when Day had a daughter, she befriended a local nun and worked with her on preparation for the baptism of her baby, then, six months later, herself. She started writing for a new liberal Catholic magazine called Commonweal. When she met Peter Maurin, she found a like-minded soul who helped her integrate her activism and anarcho-communist leanings with her new Catholic faith. Together, they started the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933. Through its newspaper, the Catholic Worker (which is still in publication) Day sought to offer an alternative to the Communist Party’s newspaper, the Daily Worker, saying "Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?" She also started a homeless shelter and farm, as models of Christian anarcho-communism, which were then duplicated around the country.
While the Church welcomed Dorothy Day’s articulate Catholic defense of social justice as an alternative to communism, her alignment with the anarchists in Spain and radical pacifism in the build-up to World War II strained their relationship, and support for her movement in general. When workers for the New York Archdiocese went on strike and Cardinal Spellman gave them nothing of their demands and brought in strikebreakers, Day denounced his actions directly. The archdiocese ordered her to remove the work “Catholic” from her publication’s title, which she refused to do.
In the 50s, as the Cold War deepened, Day protested against the nuclear arms race. She lobbied the Second Vatical Council to take a clear stand against nuclear arms, which it did. In the 60s, she questioned U.S. involvement in Viet Nam, which Cardinal Spellman described as a “war for civilization.”
Dorothy Day has been cited admiringly by Pope Benedict, and when Pope Francis spoke to the U.S. Congress in 2015, he named her as one of four inspiring Americans, with Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Merton; Day specifically for social justice. The cause to pursue sainthood for Day was begun in 2000 and formalized in 2012.