The rooms in Spirit Center are named for mystics and monastics. Here is one of them.
Dorothy Day was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. Her father took a newspaper position in San Francisco and she witnessed the 1906 earthquake along with the subsequent self-sacrifice of neighbors in crisis — a formative experience about individual action and Christian community.
As a young adult and emerging writer, she became interested in social action and the power of the written word to effect change. She was jailed for her participation in a nonviolent protest advocating for women’s right to vote. From then on, civil disobedience was a part of her advocacy for the poor and disenfranchised, and for peace.
As she searched for focus and became a mother, she was drawn to the Catholic faith and converted. Here she discovered a foundation in the sacraments and the inspiration of the saints that would support and inspire her for the rest of her life. She considered the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount a mission statement. However, the Great Depression had begun and she struggled to find Catholic leaders dedicated to living this Gospel message. She wrote, “Where was the Catholic leadership in the gathering of bands of men and women together, for the actual Works of Mercy?” She felt that the needs of the times called for saints that not only ministered to the victims of society, but also worked to remedy the ills of society that created such victims.
Shortly after intensely praying for clarification about her own call she met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant who had a vision for social justice and its connection to the poor that was partially inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and papal documents on social matters. Peter helped Dorothy find a grounding in Catholic theology for social action. She began the publication Catholic Worker in 1933 and the Catholic Worker movement was born. Along with the publication, houses of hospitality emerged that provided food, clothing, and shelter to guests on a no-questions-asked basis. “We cannot love God unless we love each other,” said Dorothy.
Eventually she became a Benedictine oblate and the Divine Office gave her an essential framework for daily prayer that strengthened her work throughout many odds. The Benedictine influence can be seen in the Catholic Worker movement’s values of voluntary simplicity, community, prayer, and hospitality.
In his 2015 address before the U.S. Congress, Pope Francis included her in a short list of exemplary Americans along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Merton. The Church has opened the cause for Dorothy Day’s possible canonization and now refers to her with the title, Servant of God.