“Whatever I had read as a child about the saints had thrilled me. I could see the nobility of giving one’s life for the sick, the maimed, the leper…. But there was another question in my mind. Why was so much done in remedying the evil instead of avoiding it in the first place?… Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?”
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness
Today is the anniversary of the death of Dorothy Day on November 29, 1980.
Dorothy Day may seem an anomaly to many people. Raised without religion, a radical activist, she hang out with literary and political outcasts. But her conception of a child led her to the Catholic Church, even though it meant separation from the man she loved who was the father of her child.
She embraced Catholicism, partly because she saw it as the religion of the poor masses. She was devoted to St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, an unlikely saint for someone who embraced radical change in society.
But for her change began from where she was. Yes, she struggled to change the world and politics, but it began where she was.
She situated herself among the poor – which was not easy for her. Her writings do not present an idealized poor; she knew their problems first hand – the smells, the quarrels, and more.
She loved the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the rosary – even as she struggled to feed the poor and help make real a little part of the world where love was made real.
She is the ideal saint for today – neither conservative, nor liberal.
She was a radical; she went to the roots. That meant she saw personal conversion as a first step, though not the only step, to personal and social transformation.
I met her once, at the end of a Friday night meeting at the Catholic Worker in New York City, as people were cleaning up. I don’t remember what she said, but I mostly remember her as being like a grandmother (which she was) – attentive, loving, present.
That reminds of the story of a little boy at a dinner at the Rochester, NY, Catholic Worker, who when he saw Dorothy said: “All day long they said Dorothy Day is coming and now she’s here and she’s just an old woman!”
She was who she was – not someone else. She sought to be the person who God made her to be.
Than meant being an old woman who prayed daily, who read Russian novelists, who listened to the opera, and one of whose last public actions was being arrested in support of farm workers.
Dorothy Day, pray for us.