Cardinals are Calling for Dorothy Day to Be Canonized as a Saint

by Amy Bucknam


Finally, someone is calling for Dorothy Day to be sanctified for all of the social justice and service she achieved in her lifetime.  And the biggest advocate for this woman’s sainthood is none other than the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Dolan.


“I am convinced she is a saint for our time,” Cardinal Dolan said at the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to the New York Times.  Dolan said that Day exemplifies “what’s best in Catholic life, that ability we have to be ‘both-and’ not ‘either-or.’ ”


Dorothy Day is an icon of social justice, service, and progressive Catholicism.  She dedicated her life to serving people in poverty, and founding and leading the Catholic Worker movement, which directly aided the poor and advocated for nonviolent direct action.  Day created a legacy of service now revered by all those in solidarity with the less fortunate. 


Born in Brooklyn Heights in 1897 to nonobservant Protestant parents, Day had no real religious upbringing, yet she connected with the largely Catholic working class.  She was raised in San Francisco and Chicago before she dropped out of the University of Illinois and moved to New York to become a journalist.  She started by writing for various leftist publications including The Liberator and The Masses.  Day viewed all forms of government as tyrannical. 


Her conversion to Catholicism began after Day unexpectedly became pregnant by her then common-law husband, Forster Batterham, who didn’t want kids and disapproved of religion.   After breaking it off with Batterham and giving birth to her daughter, Tamar, in 1926, Day rushed to join the Catholic Church.


With the combination of her faith, pacifism, dedication to service, and her progressive outlook on social and economic rights, Day was a figure praised by both devout Catholics and hippie-types by the 1960s.


Beginning with the founding of the Catholic Worker publication, Day, with her close vagabond friend Peter Maurin, started the Catholic Worker movement in the war-torn and desperate 1930s.  From there, Day and Maurin opened up their “house of hospitality,” a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in the slums of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and then started various communal farms for people to live and thrive on.  The movement quickly spread through out the United States and Canada by the early 1940s, and today, over a hundred communities exist all through out the world.



Still, Day’s induction into sainthood is facing many obstacles.  The Vatican’s policy of canonization is extensive. They would have to determine that at least two miracles occurred from prayers to Dorothy Day since her death, and there must be a constant lobby campaign to have her sanctified.  On top of that, some in the church are opposing Day as a saint because of various occurrences in her life.  She had an abortion prior to having her daughter, Tamar, out of wedlock.  As Dolan pointed out at the bishops’ meeting, her “sexual immorality” and “religious searching” were also concerns.   However, Dolan and other supporters praise Day for her pro-life stance after her abortion, and view her as a former sinner who transformed after a spiritual awakening.


Still, I don’t think Day would have too much of a problem with this backlash.  Despite the fact that Day and the Catholic Worker movement were greatly influenced by the good works of Catholic saints, such as St. Francis of Assisi, she famously said, “Don’t trivialize me by trying to make me a saint.”


Photos via Hope Mission Connection and New York Times.

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