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Book review: The courage and compassion of Catholic activist Dorothy Day

| Mar. 06, 2020

Book Review

Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century
By John Loughery and Blythe Randolph
Simon & Schuster 

In September 2015, in my capacity as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, I sat in the House chamber listening to Pope Francis deliver a joint address to Congress. In remarks that touched on religious fundamentalism, immigration and the death penalty, the pope said he intended “to dialogue” with Americans and their elected representatives. To do so, he drew on the lives of four national figures: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., the Catholic Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, and “servant of God” Dorothy Day, whom the pope hailed for “her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed.” When I heard Day’s name, I looked around the chamber, wondering if anybody else was struck that he had included her.

Day, a former Bohemian and communist sympathizer who converted to Catholicism at age 30, built the Catholic Worker Movement, which still runs “hospitality houses” that care for the homeless, the mentally ill and all manner of disadvantaged people, and which publishes the Catholic Worker, a radical newspaper. As a political activist, Day denounced America’s entry into World War II, as well as President Harry Truman’s nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as America’s “mortal sin.” She also believed that capitalism was destroying countless American lives, arguing even in the midst of McCarthyism that, because of America’s racial segregation and its role as the world’s arms supplier, “our way of life, as we are living it, is not worth saving.” Before joining the church, she had an abortion and gave birth to a child out of wedlock. Once baptized, she frequently attacked the Catholic Church hierarchy for its silence or complicity on matters of injustice. Despite this colorful past, nobody in the U.S. House chamber seemed to react to her inclusion. I wondered if this was because people were unfamiliar with her complex and altogether gripping life story.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Power, Samantha.“Book review: The courage and compassion of Catholic activist Dorothy Day.” The Washington Post, March 6, 2020.

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