Between the Lines: Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker

Feb 9, 2018

Dorothy Day, circa 1960.
Credit AP Photo

 

“Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily,” Dorothy Day said. Her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy, has done neither. She's honored her grandmother in the best way she knows how: by writing her biography, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty (Scribner, 2017).


Dorothy Day was a prominent Catholic writer, social activist, and co-founder of a movement called the Catholic Worker, dedicated to serving the poor. Day is currently a candidate for sainthood at the Vatican.

Hennessy explains the Catholic Worker movement: "It began in 1933, founded by my grandmother and Peter Maurin, a French peasant who had come to my grandmother with a vision of how to make the world, as he would say, an easier place where to be good. This was during the Great Depression. Millions of people around the country were out of work and living quite rough lives. My grandmother had been involved with radical groups during the 1920's. In 1927, she converted to Catholicism but she never dropped her radical roots and was very interested in social justice.”

Credit Scribner

As a journalist, Day’s first thought was to start a newspaper. It was also called The Catholic Worker, and she handed it out wherever she found labor unrest or other union protests. But it rapidly turned into much more than just a newspaper.

“She wrote about houses of hospitality, soup lines, clothing rooms, places that help people do what she considered the essential message of the gospel, that is, works of mercy,” Hennessy says. “Feed the hungry; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless.”

When people then asked her where they could get help, Day realized that the logical next step was for The Catholic Worker to open hospitality houses. They fed the hungry and offered other assistance to the needy. Then Hennessy says the movement exploded as hospitality houses opened across the country in many major cities.

Kate Hennessy is a writer and the youngest of Dorothy Day’s nine grandchildren. Her work has been included in Best American Travel Writing. She's also the author of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker: The Miracle of our Continuance in collaboration with photographer Vivian Cherry. Hennessy divides her time between Ireland and her home in Vermont.

Hennessy will read from her book and talk about her grandmother’s legacy as a writer and journalist, a mother and grandmother, and a woman of faith helping the poor, at Transformations Spirituality Center, 3427 Gull Road, in Kalamazoo on Monday, February 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. The program costs $18. If you're interested, you must register in advance.

Listen to Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.

You can stay in touch with WMUK news on FacebookTwitter, and by signing up for our eNewsletter.