Dorothy Day (1897-1980)

img_1054Catholic writer and activist, Dorothy Day, is more well known than some of the previous women I have touched on but her life is worth addressing. She truly embodied hospitality to all people and most importantly to the poorest of the poor. One of the ways that she cared for the working poor was through listening to them. After a lifetime of experience, Day instructs in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, with how to love,

If we are rushed for time, sow time and we will reap time. Go to church and spend a quiet hour in prayer. You will have more time than ever and your work will get done. Sow time with the poor. Sit and listen to them, give them your time lavishly. You will reap time a hundredfold. Sow kindness and you will reap kindness. Sow love, you will reap love (The Long Loneliness, 291).

Early in Day’s life, she witnessed the aftermath of World War II which left many Americans unemployed and devoid of purpose in life. New machination replaced meaningful jobs and left them with no where else to turn, “Wheels turned and engines throbbed and the great pulse of the mechanical and physical world beat strong and steady while men’s pulses sickened and grew weaker and died. Man fed himself into the machine” (The Long Loneliness, 203). From Day’s perspective, people no longer lived in community and for her, this was the most distressing problem of American society. Her activism started with the founding of a Catholic journal in New York City called the Catholic Worker which addressed the pressing issues of the working poor in America. As a journalist, she helped awaken America to the need of paying attention to the poor and reminding them of how all people deserve to be treated with dignity. She also helped start hospitality houses where those who were struggling with making money could join together with others, live off the land and become self-sufficient instead of living in poverty within the cities. Some of these homes are still flourishing today. Day writes about the long-term vision of these homes stating how these

hospices, or houses of hospitality, where the works of mercy could be practiced to combat the taking over by the state of all those services which could be built up by mutual aid; and farming communes to provide land and homes for the unemployed, whom increasing technology was piling up into the millions. In 1933, the unemployed numbered 13,000,000 (The Long Loneliness, 218)

IMG_1055Day’s vision for the Catholic Worker and the hospitality homes came from her mentor, Peter Maurin, and together they accomplished much. Peter’s story runs deep throughout her autobiography, “Five years after I became a Catholic I met Peter Maurin and his story must play a great part in this work because he was my master and I was his disciple; he gave me ‘a way of life and instruction,’ and to explain what has come to be known as ‘The Catholic Worker Movement’ in the Church throughout the world, I must write of him”(The Long Loneliness, 30). This is how she describes his tenacious dream, “Peter rejoiced to see men do great things and dream great dreams. He wanted them to stretch out their arms to their brothers, because he knew that the surest way to find God, to find the good, was through one’s brothers. Peter wanted this striving to result in a better physical life in which all men would be able to fulfill themselves, develop their capacities for love and worship, expressed in the arts. He wanted them to be able to produce what was needed in the way of homes, food, clothing, so that there was enough of these necessities for everyone”(The Long Loneliness, 203). Day and Maurin’s first hand experience of living with the poor, the unemployed, the down trodden and listening to their stories caused them to see how American society was hindering people from thriving with the expanding of factories and jobs becoming more mechanized. Day often quotes Peter Maurin and one of his more memorable sayings was how “We need to make the kind of society where it is easier for people to be good”(The Long Loneliness, 320). People need one another not just for survival but for meaning in this life.

Dorothy ends her autobiography with these words


We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with crust, where there is companionship. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on (The Long Loneliness, 326).

One thought on “Dorothy Day (1897-1980)

  1. Thank-you, McCall! There are certainly some great thoughts above in your blog that I almost effortlessly enjoyed, because of your hard work. And, you’ve put one more book on my reading list: The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist.


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