Catholic News Service photo
Dorothy Day
Catholic News Service photo
Dorothy Day
Long after she had become a celebrity, Dorothy Day stood speaking one-to-one with a person who was homeless. A starry-eyed journalist sauntered to the pair and waited to ask the famous activist some questions. Day reportedly finished her conversation, in no rush. She then turned politely to the reporter and asked something like, “Which one of us did you come to see?”

More than 30 years after Day’s death, we can see even better what an authentically Christian life she led.

In addition to seeing homeless people as other Christs, she stood up to national leaders to oppose war and other corporate violence. She was generally skeptical of government. At the same time, she often fell to her knees to say the rosary. In 1974, Day referred to birth control and abortion as forms of genocide.

We are thankful to our U.S. bishops for moving her canonization cause forward. What is today so appealing about Day is that she personifies the unity of the pro-life Catholic and the peace-and-justice Catholic, one of the large and sad divides in the U.S. church, even here in Oregon.

Of course, we should be careful lest the move to canonization sanitize a Catholic who was ardent, salty and defiant. She was a pacifist who loved the poor and relentlessly critiqued society.   

True, as a young woman, Day had an abortion. But consider St. Augustine, a onetime cad who became perhaps the foremost doctor of the church.

The initial force behind Day’s sainthood cause was the zealously pro-life Cardinal John O’Connor of New York.  

“It has long been my contention that Dorothy Day is a saint — not a ‘gingerbread’ saint or a ‘holy card’ saint, but a modern day devoted daughter of the Church, a daughter who shunned personal aggrandizement and wished that her work, and the work of those who labored at her side on behalf of the poor, might be the hallmark of her life rather than her own self,” Cardinal O’Connor wrote in 2000.

Before her conversion, Day was indeed sympathetic to communists and anarchists. Later, she was not a member of such groups and refused to condone their tactics. She may have held opinions in common with them, but the cardinal said those opinions were “a respect for the poor and a desire for economic equity.” He submitted her writings to a dogmatist, moralist, and canonist. All assured him that her writings are in complete fidelity to the Church.

Dorothy Day is not a saint for a faraway place. Portland’s Blanchet House and Sisters of the Road Cafe each have roots in the Catholic Worker movement she helped found.