Sunday, October 11, 2009

Womyn of the Week - Dorothy Day

I am still reading, "The God We Never Knew," by Marcus J. Borg and I was startled earlier today by not knowing the name of a major American social activist mentioned in the book. On page 133, Borg writes,

And some ways of thinking about God lead to a passion for a transformed social order. In our own century, we have seen this in figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., and Desmond Tutu and in movements such as liberation theology and Latin-American Christian "base communities." The conviction that God cares about suffering leads to protest against unjust social orders and advocacy of an alternative social vision.

I was shocked that I did not know who this womyn is, since I know and honor the other social activists mentioned. I cannot help but think that the reason that I have never heard of her good works are at least partly due to her gender.
Dorothy Day 1897-1980
"The biggest mistake sometimes is to play things very safe in this life and end up being moral failures."
1897 - Birth in New York City
After her daughter was born, Dorothy Day converted to Catholicism. Day understood the difference between simply following a religion and using its principles to be radically compassionate. In 1933, she met Peter Maurin and they began the Catholic Worker Movement. This movement published a newspaper, and probably more importantly, opened up many houses to help the homeless. Their mission was to change the world! As she stated,

What we would like to do is change the world, make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute, we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.

Before her conversion to Catholicism, Day was an active social activist. She worked for womyn's suffrage, and for worker's rights. In 1924, she wrote a semi-autobiography titled, "The Eleventh Virgin." She always supported herself, which was in itself a revolutionary act at that time.

By 1941, she and Maurin had established thirty Catholic Worker communities-today there are 100 such communities all over the world!

In 1952, she wrote an autobiography, "The Long Loneliness" and she wrote about her movement in a book called, "Loaves and Fishes" in 1963.

Her bohemian beginnings led her to be called "the first hippie" by Abbie Hoffman in the 1960s, which was a titled she agreed with, although she no longer believed in some of those attributes, like "free love."

In 1971, Day was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award, or "Peace on Earth" Award. She is currently being considered for sainthood, although she had said while living not to consider her a saint, for to do so would diminish her work.

Posthumously, she was award the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey in 1992 and in 2008 was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
It is a myth that one cannot be feminist and a Catholic. It is true that there are some pretty major conflicts in church doctrine and certain feminist principles, but one must remember that there is a difference between a person's individual faith and the mandates set forth by a person in authority. The church needs to be changed and the only way that change will happen is from the efforts of people within the established religion, who understand the new needs of this time and people.

1 comment:

  1. Hello

    I've recently uploaded two rare interviews with the Catholic activist Dorothy Day. One was made for the Christophers [1971]--i.e., Christopher Closeup-- and the other for WCVB-TV Boston [1974].

    Please post or announce the availability of these videos for those who may be interested in hearing this remarkable lay minister.

    They may be located here:

    Thank you

    Dean Taylor