Vintage Reflections: Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) The living room of the Bonhoeffer House this week was more crowded and buzzing than I’ve ever seen at a Friday Vintage lunch. After a long and busy week, chili casserole hit the spot, and the aroma of hot apple cider filled the air.

After the chatting students quieted, Karen introduced the life of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper and movement, a devoted follower of the Lord, and a radical activist. She was an active member of the women’s suffrage movement, she spent days in and out of prison, and she opened various hospitality houses to serve the hungry and homeless during the Great Depression. Her biographer, Jim Forest, said it best when he wrote “there you have Dorothy Day in two words: saint and troublemaker”.

Day’s writings grappled with the idea of loving and serving others in the most humblest and selfless of ways. She recounted a day in which she cared for a man in need. Day brought him into her house on a Sunday afternoon, gave him a bed for a nap, helped him look for a job, and made him coffee and sandwiches, and after the man left, she discovered he took her wallet as well. When most would take the opportunity to be angry or vengeful, Dorothy Day instead wrote of how she was in to place to understand or judge the man’s situation. Her role was simply to love and serve others to the best of her abilities, and God would take care of the rest.

Students discussed the contradiction of how we should love and how we should judge. While they came to many different conclusions they settled on one universal truth. It’s easy to forget that we all face times of trouble and hardship, but Dorothy Day spent her life seeking these people who were at their lowest lows. And not only did she serve, but she served in the name of God. Day understood that Christ did not neglect the weak and hungry, rather he sought them in a crowd, and that was the impetus for the growth of the Catholic Worker movement all over the world.

I believe Day understood the urgency of living after God when she wrote, “we are not expecting Utopia here on this earth. But God meant things to be much easier than we have made them. A man has a natural right to food, clothing, and shelter… A family needs work as well as bread… We must keep repeating these things… Eternal life begins now”.

Click here for the Julian of Norwich reading from this week.

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Sarah Salinas, UVa 2014