Dorothy Day has been in the news recently. For those who don’t know her, here is a piece I did on her about six years ago:
A Question for Catholics: Is “St.” Dorothy Day a Uniter or Divider? Review of the Zwicks’ The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins
by Paul Likoudis
Thirty years ago, if I were asked if Dorothy Day, a co-founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper and hospitality houses, was a saint, I would have responded, most likely, “she’s a communist and a traitor.”
Twenty years ago, if I were asked the same question, I would have answered, hopefully, a little more humbly, “I really don’t know anything about her.”
Ten years ago, then having spent more than 15 years in Catholic journalism, if I were asked the same question, I’d answer, “people I know like her, but I don’t know anything about her.”
Ask me the same question today, 25 years after her death in 1980, and I would answer: “Absolutely.”
But a troubling question immediately arises: How is that a person – meaning myself – who has been immersed in Catholic journalism for more than a quarter of a century, who has tried to read deeply in the entire arena of what is known as “Catholic social justice,” who is a self-admitted disciple of the same people who inspired Dorothy – Dominican Fr. Vincent McNabb, the writers Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Penty, Christopher Dawson, Eric Gill, Robert Hugh Benson, et. al., who has studied 20th century Catholic social movements and social action in Europe and the United States – how can a person not have Dorothy Day cross his intellectual radar screen?
I think the only answer I can come up with is that in my formative years, I accepted uncritically the anti-Day propaganda prevalent at the time that the Catholic Worker Movement was a communist front.
As I began researching Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker several months ago, as a result of probing the increasingly acrimonious battle in the Catholic “blogosphere” between critics and defenders of influential Catholic “neo-cons,” such as philosopher Michael Novak, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, economist Fr. Robert Sirico, Deal Hudson and his team at Crisis magazine, among others – all Catholics who support both the U.S. war on Iraq and neo-liberal capitalist imperialism posturing as “democratization” – I came across the writings of Mark and Louise Zwick, which were posted on Stephen Hand’s TCRnews.com website.
I was particularly struck by one piece by the Zwicks, who run the Catholic Workers’ hospitality house in Houston and publish the Houston Catholic Worker, and I emailed Mark to thank him for his work. A day or two later, he asked me if I would be interested in reading his just-published book The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins (Paulist Press, 2005; $29.95).
The Zwicks’ book, should it obtain the wide readership it deserves, can unite Catholics around the controversial pacifist and critic of industrial capitalism, for it situates Dorothy among the first ranks of the saints, especially those she modeled her life after: St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catharine of Siena and St. Therese of Lisieux.
For those who know only the barest outline of her life, feeding the poor, demonstrating against war or on behalf of grape pickers, the Zwicks’ book will open a vast new panorama, showing how Dorothy, and her mentor Peter Maurin, were not only great readers, but great thinkers and writers who constantly pushed themselves to read and know and understand the “signs of the times,” but to respond to those signs in a way fully consistent with the Gospels….
In their new book, Mark and Louise Zwick illustrate just how “marvelously saintly” Dorothy was, as well as the man who inspired her, the French-born Peter Maurin, whom she met on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1932, when they agreed to launch The Catholic Worker.
As the Zwicks explain, the Catholic Worker Movement “has roots in the New Testament, the philosophy of Christian communitarian personalism, the writings of the early Church Fathers, the charisms of the founders of the great religious orders, the theology of the mystical body of Christ and the common good, and the thought of those who sought economic alternatives to both monopoly capitalism and socialism.
“The philosophy of personalism, as expressed by such writers as Emmanuel Mounier and Nicholas Berdyaev, especially shaped the movement. The French personalists emphasized the tremendous dignity of the human person, together with a profound understanding of each person’s vocation in freedom and personal responsibility. Personalists and Catholic Workers challenged the priority of economics and consumerism in daily life, what at the time was called the bourgeois spirit, and insisted instead on the primacy of the spiritual and generosity in living out one’s faith. As Peter Maurin put it, the personalist is a ‘go-giver,’ rather than a ‘go-getter.’
“Dorothy and Peter believed,” write the Zwicks, “that while the perspective of a Christian is always beyond time, the Lord meant that things should not be so difficult for so many here on this earth. They wanted to present a renewed vision, a Catholic vision, where hearts and minds would be changed as well as the social order. They and others in the Catholic renaissance and renewal movements before the Second Vatican Council insisted on beginning with a conversion of the heart and on a unity of faith, liturgy, contemplation, and action….”
The Zwicks detail Dorothy’s journey into the Church, which began in her pre-teen days when she decided on her own to become an Episcopalian, was side-tracked in college and in her “bohemian” days in New York where she was studying journalism, and her final decision to enter the Church, inspired by the poor immigrant women she would see in Greenwich Village filing into church for the 5 a.m. Mass after a night of cleaning office buildings
“When Dorothy became a Catholic,” the Zwicks write, “she did so with her whole heart, soul and mind. Her life was changed forever. Dorothy was a full-blown Catholic. She accepted the Roman Catholic Church hook, line and sinker. Some, including her brother, could not understand how she could stand to be a member of a Church they considered to be extremely authoritarian. Ironically, it was in the Church that Dorothy found freedom, the freedom to be a personalist, to engage the whole world with her faith, to address persons in an impersonal, fragmented world, and especially to meet Christ in the persons who came to her. It was in the Church that she found the spiritual weapons of which she later spoke so often….”
Read the rest of this article here: http://www.cjd.org/paper/roots/rlikoudi.html