In my two previous Dorothy Day posts, I covered Dorothy’s backstory as she sought both a relationship with God and the flow of social justice coming from being in love with that God. You can read each of them again: Part One, Part Two.
A Continuation of the Story…
Dorothy, through the Catholic Worker, felt it important to write from eyewitness accounts and not to take information from other newspapers. In that she wanted to create followers through her writing by grounding it in radical politics and Catholic theology toward the cause of social justice.[i]
Peter and Dorothy understood that government charity created victims of the system. Peter’s vision was to form “Houses of Hospitality” for those unemployed by the growing technology of the industrial age. His main goal was to create farming communes to care for people while teaching them to care for themselves and one another. These places grew with the distinct need at the time. When quarreling in the communities became a problem, the solution was manual labor. In this understanding people all lived and worked together to make a way forward.[ii]
With the view of community taught through the Catholic Worker, the FBI wondered if the paper was a front for Communism. One worried citizen complained about the writing and pointed out the sickle on the side of the farming communes’ article. In the 1930’s, Hoover started investigating the movement to discover if there were sinister motives behind it. They even suspected Dorothy was actually born in Russia. Hoover wanted to arrest Dorothy, but after six months they found nothing. She was categorized as one of the least dangerous suspects. Dorothy and the Catholic Worker Movement continued to be investigated by the FBI until the 1960’s.[iii]
The goal of the Catholic Worker was more than just writing about history, it was also about making history through influencing society. This was accomplished by providing community and informing community. Finances were an important component of meeting these goals. Dorothy refused the capitalistic approach of advertising, high subscription rates, or even government grants. Money was not a neutral commodity. There was always a cost to accepting funds so small contributions was the main resource keeping the paper in print.[iv]
Dorothy’s stand on money also came with a push back from the government. She felt it was inappropriate, given her pacifist views, that she would contribute to the purchase of items for war, so she protested by not paying war taxes. In the early 1970’s, the IRS demanded $300,000 in fines, penalties, and unpaid taxes over six years. Previously, she had not registered as a non-profit because it went against Catholic Worker principles. When the New York Times heard of the IRS’s demands they wrote about the issue stating the IRS must have genuine frauds to chase. The IRS eventually dropped the case. This issue highlights the contrast between the Catholic Worker movement of personalist simplicity and the bureaucracy of the modern government.[v]
When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, His Son, in us and loves us. And we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them. There can never be enough of it. There can never be enough thinking about it. St. John of the Cross said that where there was no love, put love and you would take out love.[vi]
In 1948, Dorothy wrote this statement in her journal while helping her daughter Tamar through her pregnancy and delivery of her third child. It was a guiding principle throughout her life. Her work was influenced deeply by her understanding that everyone has that of God in them, every person has value. As we look back on Dorothy’s life, we can see how her own humility developed and how the influence of life experience impacted her view of others. Her understanding of the world and how it worked influenced both her audience and those she lived and worked alongside.
Dorothy believed it was not enough to help, to give what you have, to pledge yourself to voluntary poverty – she felt that one must live with suffering – to share in their suffering – to give up privacy, mental, spiritual comforts as well as physical.[vii] It was this belief and her understanding of the Christ in everyone that drove Dorothy to walk a different kind of life with the Love of her life, God. She valued people and she wholeheartedly became one with them. She wasn’t afraid of their suffering and put herself with them.
The Catholic Worker was the first publication advocating civil disobedience as a legitimate means to protest war. They encouraged burning draft cards and withholding war taxes. Dorothy viewed jail time as a badge of honor.[viii] It was walking alongside others, while not distancing themselves from others’ suffering that drew them out to picket alongside other protestors.[ix] This kind of action was greatly encouraged. During this time many felt that organizations for workers were connected to Communism. The Catholic Worker Movement didn’t follow society’s fear but stepped right into the fray of valuing those who were oppressed by the system. Dorothy was not afraid to step into the conflict and encouraged others to do so as well.
“Community – that was the social answer to the long loneliness. That was one of the attractions of religious life and why couldn’t lay people share in it? Not just the basic community of the family, but also a community of families, with a combination of private and communal property.”[x]
Dorothy understood the long loneliness throughout her seeking for being loved by God, not finding that safe place with the people she encountered early in life. Once she discovered the true love of God, she invited others to share in that experience by loving them, suffering with them, and walking alongside. She stressed the importance of living in community like Jesus modeled, with personalism, pacifism, and voluntary poverty. Her’s was a radical approach, back to the roots, and based in intellectual traditions.[xi] She remained on the Catholic Worker staff until 1975, with her last speaking engagement in 1976. She stopped being as engaged due to health and once she slowed down, she suffered three minor heart attacks, became too tired for visitors, spent quality time with her daughter, and died in 1980.[xii]
During her lifetime, Dorothy wrote against war while people in the government and the church thought she was crazy, subversive, seditious, and traitorous. Subscriptions for the paper took a steep drop. Yet her writing showed that a Catholic social policy could be lived out authentically. What people discounted her for, was eventually proven right. Her conscientious objections to war were once an embarrassment for the church and now the Catholic Church holds space for that political stand.[xiv] The Catholic Worker now has 90,000 subscriptions and still sells for a penny a copy, still being funded by small donations.[xv] There are currently 216 communities in the States and 33 international communities following the Catholic Worker Movement.[xvi]
[i] William Dow, “Dorothy Day and Joseph Kessel: ‘A Literature of Urgency,’” Prose Studies 33, no. 2 (August 1, 2011): 136, 143, https://doi.org/10.1080/01440357.2011.632221.
[ii] Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Chicago, Ill.: Thomas More Press, 1989), 218–19.
[iii] Nancy L. Roberts, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 131.
[iv] Ibid., 41.
[v] Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1999), 124.
[vi] Day, The Long Loneliness, 250.
[vii] Roberts, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, 159.
[ix] Day, The Long Loneliness, 241.
[x] Roberts, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, 166.
[xi] Ibid., 261.
[xii] Roberts, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, 7.
[xiii] Ibid., 167.
[xiv] Chittister, “Dorothy Day,” 74–75.
[xv] Raboteau, American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice, 71.
[xvi] “Catholic Worker Movement,” accessed August 4, 2018, http://www.catholicworker.org/communities/directory.html.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!