IMAGE: NS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz
By Chaz Muth
WASHINGTON — The recent update
in the sainthood cause for American Catholic icon Dorothy Day is welcome news
to many of her friends and associates who believe her understanding of Catholic
social teaching should be held up as a church value.
The Archdiocese of New York
announced April 19 an important next step in the canonization process for Day: a
canonical inquiry into the life of the co-founder of the Catholic Worker
Movement and famed peace activist.
“For those who knew her, there
is no question about Dorothy’s holiness and her prophetic witness,” said Patrick Jordan, a former
managing editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper that Day helped launch in 1933
and one of her longtime companions.
“Canonization, on the other
hand, is a legal process meant to certify a certain individual’s ‘status’ at
the time of her or his death and what this means for the life of the church,”
Jordan told Catholic News Service. “Obviously, there are lots more saints than
those included on the church’s official list. Yet, for those memorable enough
to be so designated, the legal process of canonization assures that their
stories will be handed down to future generations to emulate and to value. All
to the good.”
The canonical inquiry by the
archdiocese — which is sponsoring Day’s sainthood cause and is where she
oversaw some of the Catholic Worker houses of hospitality for poor and
marginalized people — will find a historical
commission issuing a report placing Day’s life in historical context and reviewing
her unpublished writings.
York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
will appoint theological experts to review her published writings — two
readers for each publication — with an eye toward doctrine and morals.
and his wife Kathleen — both of whom helped care for Day in her later years —
told CNS they commend the archdiocese for committing considerable time and
resources to gathering the testimonies needed to determine the social activist’s
qualifications for canonization and to examining her considerable writings for
their wisdom and theological acuity.
sainthood cause was first undertaken by one of Cardinal Dolan’s predecessors, Cardinal John J. O’Connor, in
U.S. bishops unanimously endorsed Day’s sainthood cause during their 2012 fall
was born in Brooklyn in 1897 and shortly thereafter her family moved to San
Francisco, where she was baptized an Episcopalian. Her family later moved to
Chicago, and Day attended the University of Illinois.
she left college to work as a journalist in New York City. While in Manhattan,
she got involved in the causes of her day, such as women’s suffrage and peace,
and was part of a circle of literary and artistic figures of the era.
Day’s personal life, though, she went through a string of love affairs, a
failed marriage, a suicide attempt and an abortion. But with the birth of her
daughter, Tamar, in 1926, Day embraced Catholicism. She had Tamar baptized
Catholic, which ended her common-law marriage and brought dismay to her
to fuse her life and her faith, Day wrote for such Catholic publications as
America and Commonweal. In 1932, she met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant and former member of
the Christian Brothers. Together they started the Catholic Worker newspaper in
the midst of the Great Depression and opened a house of hospitality, from which
eventually spun dozens of similar houses and farm communities in the U.S. and
archdiocese also will interview eyewitnesses to Day’s life, gathering evidence that
will be sent to the Vatican’s Congregation
for Saints’ Causes and to Pope Francis.
after examining the information, the Vatican congregation and the pope
recognize Day’s heroic virtues, she will be declared “venerable,” the
next step in the canonization process. She now has the title “servant of
and, ultimately, canonization are the next steps in the process. In general,
one miracle determined to have occurred through the intercession of a candidate
for sainthood is required for beatification and a second such miracle is needed
“By declaring a person a saint,
the church does not mean to honor that person. It is not a reward,” said Deacon Tom Cornell, co-founder of the Catholic
Peace Fellowship and a decades-long associate of Day.
“It is meant to hold up an example of authentic Christian discipleship for a
certain time and place.”
told CNS he hopes this latest step in the canonization process means the
Catholic Church establishment will adopt Day’s staunch anti-war positions and
“will speed the day when all the world will know that Catholics favor
conscientious objection to war and the development of nonviolent alternatives to
conflict resolution and resistance to the imposition of tyranny from within or
without a nation state.”
suspected that a canonization cause on her behalf
could be launched after her death. Though she scoffed
at the notion during her lifetime, people who knew her
intimately say she had conflicting thoughts
on the process that goes into the church naming someone a saint.
lives are full of contradiction,” said Martha
Hennessy, one of Day’s nine grandchildren, in a 2012 interview
with CNS at Maryhouse, a Catholic Worker residence in the East Village section of New York. It’s also the
house where Day worked and where she died
“You know, she stated,
‘Don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed
that easily,'” Hennessy, now 61, said. “She also said we’re all called to be saints. But, I also see
the hand of God pushing her in a direction
that she didn’t necessarily choose
or understand at the time.
“I mean, there are other things
she would rather have done,” Hennessy
said. “But, in the end it
was very clear that her life took the direction
that it took, because she responded to hearing the voice
The Jordans also said they see
Day’s contributions to the faith getting much-deserved attention in recent
times, such as Pope Francis’ mention of her in his Sept. 24, 2015, address to
a joint meeting of Congress and the recent discussion of her life in such best-selling
books as David Brooks’ “The Road to Character.”
“The serious issues of the times
themselves — refugees, poverty and inequality, racism, massive spending on
wars and developing military technologies for future wars, capital punishment,
torture, and prolonged incarcerations, etc. — are all issues on which Dorothy
Day wrote forcefully and sought to ameliorate,” Patrick Jordan said.
“That her canonization process
has now reached this significant stage indicates Dorothy’s life will
increasingly be given the recognition it deserves,” he said. “First in the
United States, then in Rome, and finally throughout the world.”
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