Category Archives: Sainthood causes

Dorothy Day’s 32nd anniversary of death

Day's Funeral procession.jpgToday is the 32nd anniversary of death of the Servant of God Dorothy Day. The Benedictine Oblate from Brooklyn Heights, NY, who is remembered for her conversion to Christ and His Church and with Peter Maurin founded The Catholic Worker Movement.

In recent days we’ve learned that the bishops of the USA are standing behind Day’s cause for canonization advancing it to the next canonical stage. While the process may be protracted for some, it is a good and substantial process to ascertain the claim of sanctity of the person in question. As an editorial, I tend to think 30 years is a good amount of time between the death of a person and the study process commencing; in my humble opinion I think it was far too short of time for Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II beatifications; both are saints in my opinion, but I think the process can’t be shortchanged because of cosmic popularity.

Day was a Benedictine Oblate of St Procopius Abbey.

The Archdiocese of New York is in charge of the cause of canonization. You can contact the office at 212-371-1000, ext. 2474.

The following letter to the editors by Kenneth Woodward regarding the funeral of Dorothy Day which sheds some light on the New York Archdiocese’s involvement. Many are falsely led to believe the Church was callous because no bishop was present at the funeral Mass. Apparently, truth prevails. Read the letter.

To the Editors:

Your story on Dorothy Day and the bishops ignores a number of facts concerning her funeral, which I attended.

As it happened, Cardinal Terrance Cooke of New York wanted her funeral held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the congregation would certainly have included many bishops, but the Catholic Worker community insisted that the funeral held in the neighborhood where Dorothy had lived so the poor could attend. Few actually did. At the church door each mourner was greeted by Cooke himself, not dressed in a cardinal’s finery but in a simple black cassock. Cooke did not stay for the mass because he did not want his presence to draw attention away from the woman for whose sake we mourners had gathered. Later, he held a memorial mass for Dorothy at the cathedral.

Cooke was a conservative churchman. So was Cardinal John O’Connor who formally initiated the cause on behalf of Dorothy Day’s canonization. Paradoxically, it was Father Daniel Berrigan and other members of the “Catholic Left” who opposed the effort to canonize Dorothy Day. Details can be found in my book, “Making Saints,” first published in 1996. Berrigan feared that in the canonization process the narrative of Day’s life would be stripped of its radical Christian elements. Those fears would indeed be realized if “Saint Dorothy” were to be venerated solely for her remorse for having had an abortion in the years prior to her conversion to Catholicism.

Kenneth L. Woodward

You also be interested to read the Eulogy given by the former Dominican Friar Geoffrey B. Gneuhs on December 2, 1980.

The “man from the Veneto” who was John Paul I

luciani.jpgMany of us only know the name Albino Luciani. He was the one who became Pope John Paul I in 1978 and lived only 33 days as the Supreme Pontiff. That was 34 years ago; I was only 9 when the smiling pope appeared and then departed. I often think of what the face of the Church would’ve been like had he lived longer.

Celebrating the 100th birthday of Pope John Paul I (17 October 1912), L’Osservatore Romano and Il Messaggero di sant’Antonio organized a symposium on November 8 learn more about this enigmatic man. An editorial in L’Osservatore Romano gave but a peek of what was learned.
Indeed, it’s interesting to hear that JPI followed three assumptions: “detachment from the world, obedience to superiors, and absolute faithfulness to the institution” in his ministry and that he was a lover of books. Me too. Apparently, JPI liked authors as diverse as Aesop, LaFontaine, Mark Twain (his favorite) to Chesterton and Dickens, among many. He also liked rock music and the comics. For a priest of the mountains he was an educated, curious and humane person. His cause for canonization is being studied.
Luciani spoke of the Second Vatican Council using soccer terms. Good for him. He got the point across to those who likely wouldn’t know where to begin to understand the complexities of a Ecumenical Council.
Read the editorial for yourself.
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Dorothy Day not the patron saint of the “left” nor an agenda item of the “right”

Day the saint.jpgDorothy Day is not a pawn in political camps. She is the darling of a political camp for either the seculars or the ecclesials. To apply political monikers of liberal and conservative, left or right is grossly inaccurate and a rather reductionistic manner to understand a person and her vocation, the vocation defined by love and happiness. True to an authentic follower of Christ, Dorothy Day’s vocation was to be a saint, that is singularly focussed on her Lord and Savior; her vocation was to adore and follow Jesus Christ. Day’s vocation was not to feed the the poor and argue for a change in governmental policy. As a friend said, Day’s life is too easily “framed in political terms by people who anachronistically use words like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ to describe a life that was never about that fight.” Additionally, I fully agree with Martha Hennessy, 57, the granddaughter of Day who said she was uncomfortable about her grandmother’s abortion. Let’s pay attention to Martha Hennessy, “I wish we would focus on the birth of her child more than on her abortion because that’s what really played a role in her conversion.” Indeed. This is the pro-life position of the Church.

I significantly dislike the way Day’s life is used to diminish a true practice of faith, of religion. The NY Times published Sharon Otterman’s article, “In Hero of the Catholic Left, a Conservative Cardinal Sees a Saint,” and it’s typically misguided with tired cliches and wrong information (her facts are often wrong) yet useful in a limited way because Dorothy Day saintliness shines. Obviously Otterman wanted a story and not the truth.

Dorothy Day’s vision of being a saint

Dorothy DayThere are some among the Christian faithful who would prefer not to spend resources, personal and financial, on the sainthood investigation of the Servant of God Dorothy Day. As we know the US bishops have recently given their approval for the process to move forward. The for Day’s cause for canonization is being promoted by the Archdiocese of New York; Cardinal Timothy Dolan is a very strong supporter, as is Cardinal Francis George among others.
For what it is worth, I am in favor of Dorothy Day’s cause advancing because I think she faithfully points out in concrete ways that living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is possible, reasonable, even for sinners like me. That is, she reminds us, the living, that the Church is a hospital for the sick (that is, for sinners), and not a museum of the self-righteous. Spare me the people who think they have the Christian path to salvation all figured out. PLUS, Dorothy Day is a Benedictine Oblate [of Saint Procopius Abbey] and that is a terrific witness of the laity taking the spiritual life seriously and humanely. Day’s sainthood makes no difference to her; it does make a difference to me; men and women declared saints by the Church –infallible statements of faith– aren’t sainted for their own benefit but those who are a part of the living Church today.
Many have heard it said that Dorothy Day said, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” But did she, and what did she mean?
It is true that we have to be concerned with what it mean for someone to be given the recognition “Blessed” or “Saint.” All the more if the one proposed made some declaration about her personal sanctity in public. Setting out to understand the origin and implication of Day’s declaration, Jesuit Father Jim Martin contacted Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books and a contemporary thinker of Day’s impact today.  Ellsberg sheds some necessary light on the subject. He said in part,

I bear a burden of responsibility for publicizing that line, which I quoted in the introduction to an anthology of her writings almost thirty years ago. Where did it come from? I can’t honestly say. I do remember one time sitting at the kitchen table with her at St. Joseph’s house, looking at an issue of Time magazine in which she was included in a list of “living saints.” “When they call you a saint,” she said, “it means basically that you are not to be taken seriously.”

Whatever the provenance of her famous “quote”–the important question is: What did she mean?

Dorothy’s own relationship with saints was anything but cynical. Both her daily speech and her writings were filled with references to St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Teresa of Avila. She treasured their stories. For Dorothy these were not idealized super-humans, but her constant companions and daily guides in the imitation of Christ. She relished the human details of their struggles to be faithful, realizing full well that in their own time they were often regarded as eccentrics or dangerous troublemakers.

But she didn’t just study their life and writings. She also firmly believed in their role as heavenly patrons. Whenever funds or provisions ran low she would “petition” St. Joseph. She would pray to St. Therese for patience and understanding. She would pray to St. Francis to increase her spirit of poverty.  For many years, the Catholic Worker was largely illustrated by woodcuts by Ade Bethune depicting the saints in everyday dress, performing the works of mercy. She devoted many years of her life writing a life of St. Therese of Lisieux. I have no doubt she would have delighted in the news that St. Therese was named a Doctor of the Church. It is unthinkable that she would have responded by saying, “That means basically that Therese is not to be taken seriously!”

Furthermore, long before Vatican II took up the theme of the universal call to holiness, Dorothy Day taught that “we are all called to be saints.” As she noted, “We might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name. We might also get used to recognizing the fact that there is some of the saint in all of us. Inasmuch as we are growing, putting off the old man and putting on Christ, there is some of the saint, the holy, the divine right there.” In other words, Dorothy Day regarded sanctity as the ordinary vocation of every Christian–not just the goal of a chosen few.

What Dorothy certainly opposed–and what saint wouldn’t?–was being put on a pedestal, fitted to some pre-fab conception of holiness that would strip her of her humanity and, at the same time, dismiss the radical challenge of the gospel. “Dorothy Day could do such things (live in poverty, feed the hungry, go to jail for the cause of peace). She’s a saint.” For those who said this sort of thing, the implication was that such actions–which would be out of reach for ordinary folk–must have come easily for her. She had no patience for that kind of cop-out.

Father Jim Martin’s full article/interview can be read here. Somewhat connected is what Saint Teresa of Avila saind about convent life: “May God protect me from gloomy saints.” I’d say it this way: May God protect the Church from plastic saints.

Dorothy Day’s cause for canonization gets US bishops approval

Day Time mag.jpgThe canonization process of the Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980) the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) by an unanimous voice vote on November 13, 2012 at the annual meeting of the bishops.

Sanctorum Mater (2007), requires of the diocesan bishop promoting a sainthood cause to consult at least with the regional bishops’ conference on the work of the cause.

Regarding Dorothy Day, she is a very well-known figure who is often connected with her stances on the economics and politics; the Catholic Worker movement that she co-founded is seen as a socialist and not too Catholic today. Day was based in New York City and her cause of canonization is being promoted by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York and current president of the USCCB.

We know that in 1933 Dorothy Day co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin, as a Catholic, personal response to those who lived on the margins. Sadly, Day is most remembered for the incidental things of work with the poor and a direct critique of the systems that kept them poor and peace. But do we know and appreciate, even follow Day as a 1927 convert to Jesus Christ and her intense love for the Church? As the late Father Richard John Neuhaus once said Day was “deeply grounded in fidelity to Catholic faith.”

Of the places Dorothy Day prayed, Saint Michael’s Russian Catholic Center was one of them. She apparently loved to pray the Divine Liturgy.

Yesterday Cardinal Dolan called Day “Augustinian,” in that “that “she was the first to admit it: sexual immorality, there was a religious search, there was a pregnancy out of wedlock, and an abortion. Like Saul on the way to Damascus, she was radically changed” and has become “a saint for our time.”  In fact, Dorothy Day was a Benedictine for these same reasons. Not that being an Augustinian is a bad thing, but her heart was rooted in the charism of Saint Benedict even before her 1955 Oblation as a lay Benedictine.

History tells us that “Dorothy Day met [Saint Procopius] monks at parish in NYC in the fifties. She became an oblate in 1955 primarily due to Father Rembert Sorg’s writings on the theology of manual labor. Father Brendan McGrath, scripture scholar of the community, received her oblation. She befriended Benedictine Father Chrysostom Tarasevich whom she met at the NYC Byzantine Catholic Russian Center.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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