We recently marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Dorothy Day. In an article for Catholic New York, Editor John Woods chronicled the remembrance of Day in the City of New York, where she spent most of her life working with the poor. America Media and the Sheen Center sponsored a webinar entitled "Celebrate the Living Legacy of Dorothy Day," which featured New York Times columnist David Brooks. At St. Patrick's Cathedral, a large portrait of Day was placed in the sanctuary, and Monsignor Robert Ritchie, the cathedral's rector, offered opening remarks at Cardinal Dolan's 10:15 a.m. Mass, saying, "Today, we have a special remembrance of Dorothy Day, whose beatification and canonization is being considered. . . . Please remember her in your prayers and for the fact that she might be raised to the altars."
Day’s cause for canonization was opened in 2000 by Cardinal O'Connor and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formally endorsed her cause in 2012. In 2017, Woods notes, "The diocesan inquiry into her life, heroic virtues, and reputation of holiness and intercessory power was opened."
George Horton, director of social and community development for archdiocesan Catholic Charities and vice-postulator for Day's cause has been gathering documentation from her extensive writings to share with Rome. Woods writes, "Although he never met Dorothy Day, Horton said he remains influenced by her as well as those with whom she worked in the Catholic Worker movement."
Horton points to Day as an important example for all of us today, given the intense divisions, isolation, and suffering facing our nation. Day was a person who made a point of challenging herself to see the humanity in all people. "She was always having conversations with people," he told Woods. "She wanted to know them. . . . Her legacy for our time was that she wanted people to be talking to each other, in dialogue and conversation."
Discussing the lasting impact Day has had on our society, Woods writes, "Her work reaching out to those at the margins of society and acting on behalf of charity and justice continues at Catholic Worker communities across the United States and in other countries." Referencing Horton's study of her life, Woods adds, "Dorothy Day's service was fueled by her Catholic faith. She was much an orthodox Christian, prayed for saintly intercession and believed in the authority of the Church. . . ."
It is right to see Dorothy Day as a model for our time. She would have been a kindred spirit of all those who have been on the front lines battling the pandemic over the past year. And she would have led the way in reaching out to those whose spirits have been broken due to sickness, loss of loved ones, poverty, unemployment, and hunger. In her On Pilgrimage column, Day once wrote, "Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul." And in her book Loaves and Fishes, she wrote, "The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?"
As our nation looks towards a year of recovery in 2021, let us remember the model of Dorothy Day and seek to effect that revolution of the heart in ourselves and others. Let's give support to those frontline workers who will be helping people to recover, and let’s all roll up our sleeves to help lift each other up in body, mind, and soul.
This essay is a recent "Light One Candle" column by Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers' Board of Directors ; it is one of a series of weekly columns that deal with a variety of topics and current events.