Dorothy Day: With Love for the Poor (Unsung Americans)

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9780962338021: Dorothy Day: With Love for the Poor (Unsung Americans)

Provides a look at the life and work of the activist and founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper

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About the Author:

Jim O'Grady is a freelance writer and activist for peace and social justice. His articles have appeared in Fellowship magazine, National Catholic Reporter and New York Press. He is the author of Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, published by Basic Books. In 1991, he was named Peacemaker of the Year by Pax Christi Metro New York for his work in the antinuclear movement.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Dorothy was getting older and growing tired of spectacular deeds. In the Catholic Worker's early days, her favorite saint was a nun named Theresa of Avila. An attractive and dynamic woman, Theresa had influenced kings and popes in Europe in the 16th century. She'd founded a religious community and had been the kind of leader that Peter Maurin imagined Dorothy could be. But Dorothy worked from morning till midnight just to keep the Worker going. Compared to Theresa of Avila, or to other leaders of the day, Dorothy was hardly known. The world might turn its attention to her during controversial moments, but then it would grow bored and turn away again.

Now, at 75, she was getting famous. National magazines profiled her and a network television show came by to conduct a lengthy interview. The Pope sent special greetings on her birthday. And as people learned of her life-especially her nearly 50 years of living among the poor-they began to call her a saint.

Dorothy really hated it when they called her a saint. She called it a way of admiring her virtues without doing anything oneself. She could almost hear people thinking: Voluntary poverty's okay for Dorothy Day because, after all, she's a saint. But Dorothy believed that saints are ordinary people, and that anyone can become one.

Dorothy was not, as some of her critics continued to claim, a woolly-headed dreamer. She'd spent most of her life surrounded by misery and death. "Throughout the world there is homelessness, famine, fear, and war and the threat of war. We live in a time of gigantic evil," she had only recently written.

She'd seen these evils up close and had felt helpless in their face. She'd decided she could do nothing by herself. So she'd joined with others and started the Catholic Worker. Then she'd decided that changing laws and making protests were not enough-the spirit of the world itself needed transformation. "Is the atom a little thing?" she wrote, "and yet look at what havoc it has wrought." Love itself is small but just as explosive.

Dorothy's greatest achievement was her sheer endurance. Her life at the Catholic Worker had been trying and sometimes brutal. The smells, the fights, the bickering over butter or an egg, the several times that New York City tried to shut the Worker down, the jeers from fellow Catholics for having dared to speak her mind, the bills in the mail and no money in the bank, the man who cleaned a cat with her only washcloth. Dorothy had stuck it out because of love-love for the poor, love for her friends, even love of enemies. Love had made her daily life seem radiant, including those days she'd lost her temper or collapsed into bed depressed.

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Jim O Grady
Published by Ward Hill Press (1993)
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