Thursday, April 28, 2011

DAY, DOROTHY Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement (c) By Polly Guerin

Throughout Dorothy Day’s life she searched for a purpose in life and found it in the social reform movement in the 1930s. Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the newspaper, The Catholic Worker Movement, a nonviolent pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent action on their behalf. Even before she left university Dorothy Day (1897-1980) became a part of the pre-World War I American youth rebellion against the conventions of their parents. She and her friends wanted to create a new and freer society. Dorothy Day was a women determined to succeed counting among her achievements a career as an American journalist, a social activist and as a devout Catholic convert she advocated the Catholic economic theory of distribution.
ADRIFT IN JOURNALISM
The seeds of rebellion were planted early on. She worked for the successor journal to Masses, The Liberator, and a magazine that opposed American involvement in the European war. The post office rescinded the magazine’s mailing permit and five editors were charged with sedition. An activist at heart in 1917 Day went to prison for being one of 40 women in front of the White House protesting women’s exclusion from the electorate. Assigned to a rural workhouse, the women were roughly handled. Finally they were freed by presidential order. Working as a reporter for the New Orleans item in 1922-1923 she wrote and published a commercial successful, partly auto-biographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin (1924), which revealed the great tragedy of her life, an abortion, which resulted from a love affair with a journalist.
A COMMON-LAW MARRIAGE
With the money garnered from the success of the novel Day moved back to New York and using the money from the sale of the movie rights for the novel she bought a beach cottage on Staten Island. She resumed contact with the city’s intellectuals and wrote occasionally pieces for the new Masses. At the same time (1924) she began a four-year common-law marriage with Forster Batterham, an English botanist she had met through friends. There’s was a short-lived alliance. Primarily because they shared conflicting views on life. Batterham was an anarchist opposed to marriage and religion. In a world of such cruelty, he found it impossible to believe in a God. Day’s belief in God, on the other hand, was unshakable. “How can there be no God, “she asked, “when there are all these beautiful things?”
SWEPT INTO ACTION
Her pregnancy with Batterham created a split with her common-law husband, who did not believe it wise to bring a child into this troubled world. On March 3, 1927, Tamar Teresa Day was born and Day quickly had her baptized in the Catholic Church resulting in a permanent break with Batterham. She eventually moved to Mexico City, where Day and her daughter lived on the edge of poverty. The same summer she returned to the United States on the onset of the Great Depression which swept her into the movement for social reform. It was at this time that she met Peter Maurin, a former French Christian Brother and social agitator, who convinced Day that that radical social reform and the Roman Catholic Church could be united.
BIRTH OF THE CATHOLIC WORKER
Surrounded by people in need and attracting volunteers Day’s apartment was the first location of the Catholic Worker and the seed of many houses of hospitality for the homeless to come. During the Great Depression, when no government services existed the Catholic Worker became a national movement and by 1936 thirty-three hospitality houses, havens for the houses spread across the country. For the next 50 years the Catholic Worker Movement was at the forefront of all Catholic reform efforts. In 1965 many Catholic Workers went to prison for refusing to cooperate with conscription, others took part in protests and many went to prison for civil disobedience. Day herself was jailed in 1973 for taking part in a banned picket line to support of farm workers. She was 73.
DOROTHY DAY LIVED LONG ENOUGH TO SEE HER ACHIEVEMENTS HONORED. IN 1967, SHE WAS RECEIVED BY POPE PAUL VI AND NOTRE DAM UNIVERSITY PRESENTED HER WITH ITS ‘LAETARE MEDAL,’ THANKING HER FOR COMFORTING THE AFFLICTED. MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA VISITED HER AS DID MANY OTHER DIGNITARIES. DAY FOUND HERSELF REGARDED BY MANY AS A SAINT BUT SHE DECLARED, “If I have achieved anything in my live, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.” In 2000 the Vatican began the process of considering Dorothy Day for sainthood.

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