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Dorothy Day, Saint-Worthy?

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Dorothy Day, Saint-Worthy?

Almost immediately after her death in 1980 controversy arose about whether Dorothy Day should be canonized a Saint by the Church. Now that the Vatican has approved the late Cardinal John O'Connor's request to consider Dorothy Day's "cause," the controversy is being rekindled. After converting, she dedicated her life to New York's poor and immigrants, building hospitality homes that operated much like homeless shelters. Her endeavor grew into the national Catholic Worker movement, a social justice crusade conducted in revolutionary tones new to the church.

When she died, a multitude came down to the old dwelling off the Bowery to pay their respects, the way people had come to Catholic Worker houses for soup. There were Catholic Workers, social workers, migrant workers, the unemployed; addicts, alcoholics, anarchists; Protestants, Jews and agnostics; the devout and the strident and the curious, there to see what a saint looked like. Dorothy Day died in 1980, at the age of 83. She was one of the greatest religious figures of the century, and one of the most paradoxical. She was a Catholic and she was an anarchist. She condemned poverty and she advocated it. She founded the Catholic Worker, a loose aggregation of 'houses of hospitality,' communal farms, newspapers and round-table discussions for 'further clarification of thought' - and called her memoirs 'The Long Loneliness.' The movement was wary of authority, yet revered her as its leader (Rosin).

If Dorothy Day is ever canonized, the record of who she was, what she was like and what she did is too complete and accessible for her to be hidden. She will be the patron saint not only of the homeless and those who try to care for them but also of people who lose their temper. One of the miracles of Dorothy's life is that she remained part of a conflict-torn community for nearly a half a century. Still more remarkable, she remained a person of hope and gratitude to the end. Many voices are in support of the canonization process as well, citing Dorothy Day's life as an example that has inspired them to prayer and action for social justice. Her faithfulness to the Gospel, living the "preferential option for the poor" and showing that a lay person can achieve heroic virtue are often cited (Forest).

Before an audience, she had a direct, unpremeditated, story-centered way of speaking -- no notes, no rhetorical polish, a manner that communicated a certain shyness but at the same time wisdom, conviction, faith and courage. Her basic message was stunningly simple: we are all called by God to love one another as He loved us (Forest).

Hospitality, she explained, is simply practicing God's mercy with those around us. Christ is in the stranger, in the person who has nowhere to go and no one to welcome him. "Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor are atheists indeed," she often said. Hardly a day passed in her adult life when she didn't speak about the works of mercy. For her these weren't simple obligations which the Lord imposed on his followers. Day brought many gifts to the church--her perseverance, her holiness, her journalist's critical vision--but perhaps her greatest gift was pointing the 20th century American church in a new direction, to the vulnerable and voiceless among us. She was the presence of the church to many people who otherwise would have been forgotten. Her example of profound personal spirituality and sacrifice, lay leadership, and uncompromising pacifism makes Day a daughter



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