Dorothy Day: An Introduction by Terence C Wright, Ignatius, 162pp, £12
The author, an academic at the St John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, has written an excellent short introduction to the life of this most human of women, whose Cause has been introduced. For those who do not yet know Dorothy Day, this book gives insight into the inscrutable but amazing workings of grace and, for those who do know her, it is an encouraging sign that her life is becoming more popularly known and understood.
In her life before conversion, Day reflected all the social currents of the 20th century as they affected women. Born in 1897 and growing up without religious faith, she was determined to make her own way both as a writer and a free, independent woman. This life without a spiritual compass led to a love affair, an abortion, two attempts at suicide, a brief marriage and then a relationship with the man who provided the catalyst for her transformation, Forster Batterham, an anarchist.
Day, pregnant and wanting her unborn baby to be baptised, had to choose between Batterham and her own growing faith. She had begun to see that “worship, adoration, thanksgiving, supplication – these were the noblest acts of which men were capable in this life”.
Having chosen conversion, Day was providentially introduced to Peter Maurin, the French autodidact who helped her start The Catholic Worker newspaper, followed by her founding Houses of Hospitality for homeless people, as well as Catholic Worker farming communities.
Terence C Wright’s book briefly touches on Day and Maurin’s guiding principles: personalism – that is, the value of each person, made in God’s image, rather than the more selfish “individualism”; and the common good, which “cannot be separated from the moral good”.
The urgent social question Day asked herself as the Great Depression brought misery to millions of ordinary Americans, was: “Is it possible to promote and live according to the ideas of Catholic social teaching … in a way that would serve others?” In a life of much personal sacrifice and tribulation, she showed magnificently that it was.
In a book of only 146 pages, it is not possible to cover in detail Day’s relationship to the Church, which “was not always an easy one”. She never dissented from Church teaching and was obedient to it. However, as someone who identified with the poor, she felt it could have used its resources more in line with Gospel teaching.
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