Editor's Report

Dorothy Day’s Lessons for Our Times


The first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29, also marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Dorothy Day, whose social justice advocacy on behalf of the Catholic Worker movement, which she co-founded, flowed from her deep and abiding Catholic faith.

That day, she was remembered at Cardinal Dolan’s 10:15 a.m. Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where a large portrait was placed in the sanctuary.

“Today, we have a special remembrance of Dorothy Day, whose beatification and canonization is being considered,” said Msgr. Robert Ritchie, the cathedral’s rector, in welcoming remarks.

“Please remember her in your prayers and for the fact that she might be raised to the altars.”

Msgr. Ritchie also welcomed members of the Dorothy Day Guild, which promotes her cause for beatification and canonization.

Another anniversary event, also Nov. 29, was a webinar, “Celebrate the Living Legacy of Dorothy Day,” sponsored by America Media and the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, which featured New York Times columnist David Brooks and others.

The day after Thanksgiving, I was fortunate to catch up with George Horton, a vice postulator for Dorothy Day’s cause for canonization, which was opened by Cardinal O’Connor back in 2000. (The other vice postulator is Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo, a priest of the archdiocese.)

In 2012, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formally endorsed her cause of beatification and canonization. The diocesan inquiry into her life, heroic virtues, and reputation of holiness and intercessory power was opened in 2017.

Horton, the director of social and community development for archdiocesan Catholic Charities, has previously written about Dorothy Day on CNY’s pages. He said that he expects the archdiocesan inquiry into Dorothy Day’s life to have materials ready for shipping to Rome by the end of May 2021.

Bringing order to her voluminous personal papers, housed at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., has been a herculean effort, Horton said. A large team of volunteers has provided transcription services for copious handwritten letters and other writings.

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.

Born in Brooklyn, she later returned to New York City to live and work. A convert to Catholicism, she served as editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper for 47 years until her death at 83.

“The works of mercy were not just an ideal for her,” Horton said. “They were to be acted on.” He said her life was spent living out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the words of Matthew 25.

“She took the Gospel seriously,” Horton said.

Applying her prophetic voice on justice and peace issues has helped to animate the institutional work Horton is able to accomplish through Catholic Charities, he said.

She endeavored to encounter Christ “in every human person,” which was no easy task, even for Dorothy Day. “She spoke about struggling with this, but that it was something she had to do,” Horton said.

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.

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, Horton said.

He believes that her saintly life can be an example for our times so riven by the forces of division and feelings of isolation, especially now with the dispiriting effects of Covid-19.

She was known for her frequent conversations with the people she encountered in her daily life, both at the Catholic Worker and elsewhere. “She was always having conversations with people,” Horton said. “She wanted to know them.”

As part of the exchange, those people also discovered more about themselves, said Horton, who added that she was particularly generous with young people in this regard.

“Her legacy for our time was that she wanted people to be talking to each other, in dialogue and conversation,” he said.


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