Happy Birthday, Dorothy Day!

DDay film

Very nice article in St. Louis Today celebrating Dorothy Day’s Nov. 8 birthday titled Dorothy Day: Giving Proof that the Gospel Can Be Lived.

Author Sharon Autenrieth works with the Church of the Nazarene’s Good Samaritan Ministries in East St. Louis. She writes, “There are now over 185 Catholic Worker houses of hospitality, including three in St. Louis, and it all started with soup and coffee in Dorothy’s kitchen.”

Here’s an excerpt from Autenreith’s article:

Dorothy Day never abandoned her anarchism or pacifism.  Her politics were a scandal to Christians who felt the church should serve as chaplain to the state and maintain the status quo.  Her religion was incomprehensible to the anarchists, Socialists and Communists with whom she’d spent her youth.  But Dorothy continued to reach out to both sides, seeing herself as a faithful daughter of the church, and yet a radical called to disturb the comfortable – even when the comfortable were in the pews, or the prelate’s office.  And so she often found herself, as she once wrote in her column “On Pilgrimage”, talking “economics to the rich and Jesus to the anarchists.”  It wasn’t an easy path.

Read Sharon Autenrieth’s whole article here.

Dorothy Day: Previously Unpublished 1933 Essay ‘Our Brothers, The Jews’ Published for First Time

Dorothy Day, 1925
Dorothy Day, 1925

Fr. Charles Gallagher has discovered a previously unpublished essay by Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, which lay in a correspondence file in the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University. I’m stunned!

Dorothy Day was a lay Catholic woman with radical politics, a deeply rooted faith, and a phenomenal amount of courage. She co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin in the 1930s.

The manuscript titled Our Brothers, The Jews was written in autumn 1933. It is published for the first time in the November 2009 issue of America magazine.

Five years before Adolph Hitler became “The Fuhrer,” when he was still chancellor of a coalition government and head of the Nazi party with the Nazis holding a third of the seats in the Reichstag, Dorothy Day called to account Catholics who supported and fostered Hitler’s hate-based political agenda in the U.S.

Her point of view was very unpopular at the time. So unpopular in fact that she had a hard time getting her essay published anywhere. (America magazine rejected it when she submitted it to them in 1933.) But race-baiting and Jew-hating was on the rise in the U.S. and Catholic speakers in Brooklyn, near where the Catholic Worker was based, were drawing cheering crowds when they excoriated Jews.

“She keenly foresaw the dynamic that five years later would lead to the rise of Brooklyn’s powerful Christian Front movement and its quasi-terrorist anti-Semitic plot, which was scuppered only by a spectacular set of arrests in early 1940 by J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Day’s warning about how Catholics ought to deal with Hitler rested on two of the main pillars of her faith—scriptural reflection and concern for social justice. Her deep beliefs rested on an apostolic zeal that held out the possibility for all men and women to be fully integrated into the mystical body of Christ,” the editor’s note concludes.

Here’s an excerpt from Day’s essay:

For Catholics—or for anyone—to stand up in the public squares and center their hatred against Jews is to sidestep the issue before the public today. It is easier to fight the Jew than it is to fight for social justice—that is what it comes down to. One can be sure of applause. One can find a bright glow of superiority very warming on a cold night. If those same men were to fight for Catholic principles of social justice they would be shied away from by Catholics as radicals; they would be heckled by Communists as authors of confusion; they would be hurt by the uncomprehending indifference of the mass of people.

God made us all. We are all members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ. We don’t want to extirpate people; we want to go after ideas. As St. Paul said, “we are not fighting flesh and blood but principalities and powers.”

Read the whole essay here.

The discovery of this Day manuscript is astonishing–for its historical resonance and insight into social activism. Day’s examination of hate politics from the perspective of her deeply rooted Catholicism provides us with clues for today. It forces the question: How do we bring scriptural reflection and the concerns of social justice to bear on the Tea-Partyers, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and others who use hate as a political strategy to gain power?

I was particularly touched by the comments of one contemporary reader of Day’s article who wrote, “I am an 80 -year- old Jew who lived thru the 30s in New York, and my hard heart is melted at seeing for the first time that we had such a beloved advocate. Is that what makes a saint?”

Indeed, Dorothy Day is on the path to official canonization in the Catholic Church (read my article on that here), but papal process is not what makes her a saint. Her prophetic stance rooted in faith and the response of an 80-year-old Jewish woman are.

Review: “Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me A Saint”

dday-filmDirector Claudia Larson’s DVD documentary Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me a Saint is a “must see” because Day, Catholic anarchist and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, is no ordinary saint.

Based on 14 years of research, Larson presents the intimate Day through private writings, interviews, and compelling images of her life and times. Day, currently under consideration for sainthood by the Vatican, was inspired by the gospels, the lives of the saints, and the teachings of her Roman Catholic faith.

SYNOPSIS: Tells the story of the New York writer and Catholic anarchist who at the height of the Depression unwittingly created what would become a worldwide peace and social justice movement. The Catholic Worker persists to this day in over 180 houses of hospitality and soup kitchens across the United States, in Europe, Australia, Canada and Mexico. Their tenet is based on doing works of mercy and living in voluntary poverty with no attachments to Church or State.

And although the Vatican is currently considering Dorothy Day for canonization, she is no ordinary saint. Caught up in the Bohemian whirl of 1917 Greenwich Village, Dorothy wrote for radical papers, associated with known Communists, attempted suicide and had an illegal abortion, a doomed common-law marriage and a child out of wedlock. The birth of her only child led to her religious conversion.

The film takes us through Dorothy’s protests of the 1950’s air-raid drills, her last arrest in 1973 with the United Farm Workers and to her death on November 29, 1980 at the home she founded for homeless women on New York’s Bowery.

Interviews with Dorothy, her daughter, and close intimates coupled with never-before-seen family photographs, personal writings and powerful archival footage paint a dramatic picture of Dorothy’s most difficult journey to create and live out a vision of a more just world.

This is a really fantastic film that gives an inside look at the grittiness of Day’s life, which makes her compassion and courage shine all that more brightly.

Take a look at the newly launched Web site promoting the film. Show it in your church and have a lively discussion. A book supplement to the film should be out soon.

(NOTE: This film is not just for Catholics. Everyone will appreciate Dorothy’s feisty engagement with faith and life.)

Nine More Go To Jail For Universal Health Care

wellmark-protest-cw-by-m-gillespie

A single-payer system that provides universal health care is what most Americans want the Obama administration to support in the way of health care reform.

The Obama administration –  not to mention the Republican party –  is terrified of this direction because of what it will do to the health insurance industry and, particularly, the campaign money contributed by Big Health. (Check out this lovely info map from the Sunlight Foundation on Max Baucus’ [D-MT] tie-in to the health insurance industries. Baucus is the head of the Senate Finance Committee and at the center of crafting the “reform” legislation.)

To learn more about Single-Payer Health Care and the bill HR676 that already exists in Congress supporting it, go here.

I was very glad to see that the Des Moines Catholic Worker is focusing nonviolent civil disobedience against Iowa’s largest medical insurance company. Nine were arrested in the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield offices last month. I’m grateful to Fr. Frank Cordaro for his years of witness to justice and it was great to see Frank in the photos of this recent action. Below is an excerpt from David Swanson’s article about the protest:

Following a pattern of civil resistance in Washington D.C. and around the country, citizens in Des Moines Iowa on Monday risked arrest to press for the creation of single-payer healthcare, the establishment of healthcare as a human right, and an end to the deadly practices of Iowa’s largest health insurance company, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, who has herself gone to jail for single-payer in our nation’s capital, was on hand to speak in Des Moines. She called me with this report. Nearly a month earlier, on June 19, 2009, Des Moines Catholic Workers had delivered a letter to Wellmark addressed to its CEO John Forsyth requesting disclosure of Wellmark’s profits, salaries, benefits, denials and restrictions on care. The letter had not been acknowledged by Monday, and the Catholic Workers and their allies decided to take action again.

Thirty people arrived in the Wellmark lobby in Des Moines and asked to see Forsyth or any of the members of the board of directors or the operating officers. They were told that none were available, and instead the police arrived. Nine of the 30 refused to leave and were arrested. Flowers did not yet know what the charges will be but suspected trespassing. The nine latest supporters of single-payer to go to jail for justice are:

Ed Bloomer, 62, Des Moines Catholic Worker
Kirk Brown, 29, former Catholic Worker of Waukee, Iowa
Robert Cook, 66, Des Moines, Iowa
Frank Cordaro, 58, Des Moines Catholic Worker
Renee Espeland, 48, Des Moines Catholic Worker
Christine Gaunt, 50, Grinnell, Iowa
Mona Shaw, 58, Des Moines Catholic Worker
Leonard Simons, 67, Athol, MA
Frankie Hughes, 11, Des Moines Catholic Worker

These nine and others like them around the country represent, I think, the incredible potential to energize the American public on behalf of a struggle for the basic human right of healthcare, a potential being blocked by the work of activist organizations that reach out from Washington to tell the public that single-payer is not possible, rather than reaching into Washington from outside to tell our public servants what we demand.

Updated news shows that they were all charged with misdemenor “criminal trespass.”


“JFK and the Unspeakable” by Jim Douglass

shelleyjimdouglass1I’ve been honored to know Jim Douglass and Shelley Douglass since their days at the Ground Zero community in Poulsbo, Washington. Now they live in Birmingham, Alabama. Shelley leads their mission at Mary’s House, in the spirit of the Catholic Worker. Jim continues to be one of the foremost Catholic writers, thinkers, theologians, and practitioners of Christian nonviolence.

In Jim’s groundbreaking 2008 book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Mattersjfk-unspeakable, he  probes the role of the principalities and powers in the assassination of John Kennedy, the first Catholic President, and explores why we need to understand our history if we are going to fully understand what is at stake with Barack Obama. Here’s a little bit of what I wrote after visiting with Jim last December:

Kennedy showcased his new vision in June 1963 during a speech at American University in Washington, D.C., by preaching on the absolute necessity for nations to choose peace. “What kind of peace do I mean?” asked Kennedy. “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living … .”

It was this speech, Douglass says, that prompted the Unspeakable—in the form of people within the U.S. intelligence and military structure—to act.

FAST-FORWARD TO Jan. 28, 2008, when Ted and Caroline Kennedy stood on the stage at American University to endorse Barack Obama for president. President Kennedy’s 1963 speech formed the historical backdrop. The Kennedys, I think, were sending a message: Barack Obama can pick up the banner for peace dropped by John Kennedy in death.

You can read my whole column about my visit with Jim here–and look for a review of JFK and the Unspeakable by Ed Snyder in the March 2009 issue of Sojourners.