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Profiles in Faith - February


As part of our initiative for the Year of Faith, Veritas is proud to present Profiles in Faith, a series of essays on the life and work of Christian men and women who lived their lives as ‘faith in action’. We encourage you to read the accounts, and to reflect on them over the course of the month. Additional biographical sources are also suggested, should you wish to find out more. 



Profile Five: Dorothy Day



Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn in 1897 and raised mostly in Chicago. She attended but did not graduate from the University of Illinois. Of this experience, she said, ‘I really led a very shiftless life, doing for the first time exactly what I wanted to do.’ In 1916 her family moved to New York and Dorothy went with them to pursue a career as a revolutionary journalist. She became a regular correspondent for such left-wing publications as the Call and the New Masses. She got involved in the hot-button issues of the day: women’s rights, free love, and birth control. In 1917 she joined picketers in front of the White House who were protesting against the brutal treatment of women suffragists in jail; she wound up serving thirty days in the workhouse at Occoquan.


Dorothy had a series of lovers, became pregnant by one, and had an illegal abortion. On the rebound from that affair, she got married; but the marriage lasted only a year. In 1926 Dorothy found herself pregnant again. This time she was determined to have the baby, and she did. Dorothy had been an agnostic, but with the birth of her daughter, whom she called Tamar, she began a period of spiritual awakening which led her to embrace Catholicism. The child’s father was a committed atheist, but Dorothy was determined to have Tamar baptised as a Catholic and to become a Catholic herself. It was impossible to do this and have her lover too, so after much heartache she broke up with him and was baptised in December 1927 at Our Lady Help of Christians parish on Staten Island, New York. In her 1952 biography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy recalled that immediately after her baptism she made her first confession, and the following day she received Holy Communion ‘with great joy in her heart’. Subsequently, Day began writing for Catholic publications, such as Commonweal and America.


On May Day 1933, Dorothy and Peter Maurin, a wandering French philosopher and social activist, began the Catholic Worker, a monthly paper devoted to social justice and active non-violence. Dorothy converted the newspaper’s office into a ‘home of hospitality’ for the homeless poor. In this way she began the first of many soup kitchens and shelters that have come into existence under the Catholic Worker umbrella. This is how she described her missionary work with the poor: ‘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. By fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute . . . we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.’


By the 1960s Dorothy Day was acclaimed as the ‘grand old lady of pacifism’. Hollywood made a movie of her life, Entertaining Angels, starring Moira Kelly as Dorothy and Martin Sheen as Peter Maurin. Dorothy Day died in 1980. Right up until the end, she was protesting against injustice and working for peace in the world. In March 2000, her cause for canonisation to sainthood was introduced and she was officially declared ‘a Servant of God’.


A quote from Dorothy Day:

 ‘It is always a terrible thing to come back to home . . . men crouched on the stairs, huddled in doorways, without overcoats because they sold them, perhaps the week before when it was warm, to satisfy hunger or thirst, who knows. Those without love would say, “It serves them right, drinking up their clothes.” God help us if we got just what we deserved.’


Reflect and Decide:

 - It is said that a true conversion changes a person’s ‘head, heart and hands’, even if it takes a lifetime. Describe in your own words how Dorothy Day’s experiences changed what she thought, how she felt and the way she lived.
 - Do you agree with Dorothy Day when she says, ‘God help us if we got just what we deserved’? What do you think she meant by this?
 - Despite her wild early years, Dorothy Day dedicated her life to helping others and working for ‘the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world’. Is this something that appeals to people today? Why or why not?


Previous Profiles in Faith:

October 2012: Thomas Merton

November 2012: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

December 2012: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

January 2013: St Francis of Assisi


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