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Catholic Worker Essay, Research Paper

It seems that to some people that they give more so society than others, but

than there is one woman, who gave her life to society to help others though

giving and sharing and helped people through a time of need. Yet there seems to

be few there is. Dorothy Day, patron of the Catholic Worker movement, was born

in Brooklyn, on New York, November 8, 1897. After surviving the San Francisco

earthquake in 1906, the Day family moved into a tenement flat in Chicago’s South

Side. It was a big step down in the world made necessary because Dorothy?s

father was out of work. Day’s understanding of the shame people feel when they

fail in their efforts dated from this time. It was in Chicago that Day began to

form positive impressions of Catholicism. Day recalled. when her father was

appointed sports editor of a Chicago newspaper, the Day family moved into a

comfortable house on the North Side. Here Dorothy began to read books that

affected her conscience. Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, inspired Day to

take long walks in poor neighborhoods in Chicago’s South Side. It was the start

of a life-long attraction to areas many people avoid. Day won a scholarship that

brought her to the University of Illinois campus at Urbana in the fall of 1914.

However, she was a reluctant scholar. Her reading was chiefly in a radical

social direction. She avoided campus social life and insisted on supporting

herself rather than living on money from her father. Dropping out of college two

years later, she moved to New York where she found a job as a reporter for The

Call, the city’s only socialist daily. She covered rallies and demonstrations

and interviewed people ranging from butlers to labor organizers and

revolutionaries. She next worked for The Masses, a magazine that opposed

American involvement in the European war. In September, the Post Office

rescinded the magazine’s mailing permit. Federal officers seized back issues,

manuscripts, subscriber lists and correspondence. Five editors were charged with

sedition. In November 1917 Day went to prison for being one of forty women in

front of the White House protesting women’s exclusion from the electorate.

Arriving at a rural workhouse, the women were roughly handled. The women

responded with a hunger strike. Finally they were freed by presidential order.

Returning to New York, Day felt that journalism was a meager response to a world

at war. In the spring of 1918, she signed up for a nurse’s training program in

Brooklyn. Her conviction that the social order was unjust changed in no

substantial way from her adolescence until her death. Her religious development

was a slower process. As a child, she attended services at an Episcopal Church.

As a young journalist in New York, she would sometimes make late night visits to

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Sixth Avenue. The Catholic climate of worship

appealed to her. While she knew little about Catholic belief, Catholic spiritual

discipline fascinated her. She saw the Catholic Church as "the church of

the immigrants, the church of the poor." In 1922, while in Chicago working

as a reporter, she roomed with three young women who went to Mass every Sunday

and holy day and also set aside time each day for prayer. It was clear to her

that "worship, adoration, thanksgiving, supplication … were the noblest

acts of which we are capable in this life." Her next job was with a

newspaper in New Orleans. Living near St. Louis Cathedral, Day often attended

evening Benediction services. Back in New York in 1924, Day bought a beach

cottage on Staten Island using money from the sale of movie rights for a novel.

She also began a four-year common-law marriage with Forster Batterham, an

English botanist she had met through friends in Manhattan. Batterham was an

anarchist opposed to marriage and religion. In a world of such cruelty, he found

it impossible to believe in a God. By this time Day’s belief in God was

unshakable. It grieved her that Batterham didn’t sense God’s presence within the

natural world. "How can there be no God," she asked, "when there

are all these beautiful things?" His irritation with her "absorption

in the supernatural" would lead them to quarrel. What moved everything to a

different plane for her was pregnancy. She had been pregnant once before, years

earlier, as the result of a love affair with a journalist. This resulted in the

great tragedy for her in her life, an abortion. The affair and its awful

aftermath had been the subject of her novel, The Eleventh Virgin. The abortion,

Day concluded in the years following, had left her barren. "For a long time

I had thought I could not bear a child, and the longing in my heart for a baby

had been growing,"she confided in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness.

"My home, I felt, was not a home without one." Her pregnancy with

Batterham seemed to Day nothing less than a miracle. But Batterham didn’t

believe in bringing children into such a violent world. On March 3, 1927, Tamar

Theresa Day was born. Day could think of nothing better to do with the gratitude

that overwhelmed her than arrange Tamar’s baptism in the Catholic Church.

"I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered. I wanted to

believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to a Church would

give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of

the Saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic."

After Tamar’s baptism, day split from Batteram permanently. On December 28, Day

was received into the Catholic Church. A day commenced in her life as she tried

to find a way to bring together her religious faith and her radical social

values. In the winter of 1932 Day traveled to Washington, DC, to report for

Commonweal and America magazines on the Hunger March. Day watched on December 8,

the Feast of the Immaculate Conception the protesters parade down the streets of

Washington carrying signs calling for jobs, unemployment insurance, old age

pensions, relief for mothers and children, health care and housing. What kept

Day in the sidelines was that she was a Catholic and Communists had organized

the march, a party at war with not only with capitalism but religion. After

witnessing the march, Day went to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where

she expressed her torment in prayer: "I offered up a special prayer, a

prayer which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to

use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor." Back in

her apartment in New York the next day, Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant

20 years her senior. Maurin, a former Christian Brother, had left France for

Canada in 1908 and later made his way to the United States. When he met Day, he

was handyman at Catholic boys’ camp in upstate New York, receiving meals, use of

the chaplain’s library, living space in the barn and occasional pocket money.

During his years of wandering, Maurin had come to a Franciscan attitude,

embracing poverty as a vocation. His celibate, unencumbered life offered time

for study and prayer, out of which a vision had taken form of a social order,

instilled with basic values of the Gospel "in which it would be easier for

men to be good." A born teacher, he found willing listeners, among them

George Shuster, editor of Commonweal magazine, who gave him Day’s address. As

remarkable as the providence of their meeting was Day’s willingness to listen.

It seemed to her he was an answer to her prayers, someone who could help her

discover what she was supposed to do. What Day should do, Maurin said, was start

a paper to publicize Catholic social teaching and promote steps to bring about

the peaceful transformation of society. Day readily embraced the idea. If family

past work experience and religious faith had prepared her for anything, it was

this. Day found that the Paulist Press was willing to print 2,500 copies of an

eight-page tabloid paper for $57. Her kitchen was the new paper’s editorial

office. She decided to sell the paper for a penny a copy, "so cheap that

anyone could afford to buy it." On May 1, the first copies of The Catholic

Worker were handed out on Union Square. Few publishing ventures meet with such

immediate success. By December, 100,000 copies were being printed each month. In

The Catholic Workers, readers found a unique voice. It expressed dissatisfaction

with the social order and took the side of labor unions, but its vision of the

ideal future challenged both urbanization and industrialism. It wasn’t just

radical but religious too. The paper didn’t merely complain but called on its

readers to make personal responses. For the first half year The Catholic Worker

was only a newspaper. Maurin’s essays in the paper were calling for renewal of

the ancient Christian practice of hospitality to those who were homeless. In

this way followers of Christ could respond to Jesus’ words: "I was a

stranger and you took me in." Maurin opposed the idea that Christians

should take care only of their friends and leave care of strangers to impersonal

charitable agencies. Every home should have its "Christ Room" and

every parish a house of hospitality ready to receive the "ambassadors of

God," but as winter approached, homeless people began to knock on the door.

Surrounded by people in need and attracting volunteers excited about ideas they

discovered in The Catholic Worker, it was certain that the editors would soon be

given the chance to put their beliefs into practice. Day’s apartment was the

seed of many houses of hospitality to come. By the wintertime, an apartment was

rented with space for ten women, soon after a place for men. Next came a house

in Greenwich Village. In 1936 the community moved into two buildings in

Chinatown, but no enlargement could possibly find room for all those in need.

Mainly they were men, "gray men, the color of lifeless trees and bushes and

winter soil, who had in them as yet none of the green of hope, the rising sap of

faith." Many people were surprised that, in contrast with most charitable

centers, no one at the Catholic Worker set about reforming them. A crucifix on

the wall was the only unmistakable evidence of the faith of those welcoming

them. The staff received only food, board and occasional pocket money. The

Catholic Worker became a national movement. By 1936 there were 33 Catholic

Worker houses spread across the country. Due to the Depression, plenty of people

needed them. The Catholic Worker attitude toward those who were welcomed wasn’t

always appreciated. These weren’t the "deserving poor," it was

sometimes objected, but drunkards and good-for-nothings. A visiting social

worker asked Day how long the "clients" were permitted to stay.

"We let them stay forever," Day answered with a fierce look in her

eye. "They live with us, they die with us, and we give them a Christian

burial. We pray for them after they are dead. Once they are taken in, they

become members of the family. Or rather they always were members of the family.

They are our brothers and sisters in Christ." Some justified their

objections with biblical quotations. Didn’t Jesus say that the poor would be

with us always? " Yes," Day once replied, "but we are not content

that there should be so many of them. The class structure is our making and by

our consent, not God’s, and we must do what we can to change it. We are urging

revolutionary change." The Catholic Worker also experimented with farming

communes. In 1935 a house with a garden was rented on Staten Island. Soon after

came the Mary Farm in Easton, Pennsylvania. This a property, was eventually

given up because of strife within the community. Another farm was purchased in

upstate New York near Newburgh. Called the Maryfarm Retreat House, it was

destined for a longer life. Later came the Maurin Peter Farm on Staten Island,

later moved to Tivoli and then to Marlborough, both in the Hudson Valley. Day

came to see the vocation of the Catholic Worker was not so much to found model

agricultural communities as rural houses of hospitality. Pacifism caused Day the

most trouble. A nonviolent way of life, as she saw it, was at the heart of the

Gospel. Like the early church she too seriously the command of Jesus to Maurin:

"Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword shall perish by the

sword." For many centuries the Catholic Church had accommodated itself to

war. Popes had blessed armies and preached Crusades. In the thirteenth century

St. Francis of Assisi had revived the pacifist way, but by the twentieth

century, it was unknown for Catholics to take such a position. The Catholic

Worker’s first expression of pacifism, published in 1935, was a dialogue between

a patriot and Christ, the patriot dismissing Christ’s teaching as a noble but

impractical doctrine. The fascist side, led by Franco, presented itself as

defender of the Catholic faith. Nearly every Catholic bishop and publication

rallied behind Franco. The Catholic Worker, refusing to support either side in

the war, lost two-thirds of its readers. Those backing Franco, Day warned early

in the war, ought to "take another look at recent events in [Nazi]

Germany." She expressed anxiety for the Jews and later was among the

founders of the Committee of Catholics to Fight Anti-Semitism. Following Japan’s

attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war, Dorothy announced that

the paper would maintain its pacifist stand. "We will print the words of

Christ who is with us always," Day wrote. "Our manifesto is the Sermon

on the Mount." Opposition to the war, she added, had nothing to do with

sympathy for America’s enemies. "We love our country…. We have been the

only country in the world where men and women of all nations have taken refuge

from oppression." But the means of action the Catholic Worker movement

supported were the works of mercy rather than the works of war. She urged

"our friends and associates to care for the sick and the wounded, to the

growing of food for the hungry, to the continuance of all our works of mercy in

our houses and on our farms." Not all members of Catholic Worker

communities agreed. Fifteen houses of hospitality closed in the months following

the U.S. entry into the war. But Day’s view prevailed. Every issue of

TheCatholic Worker reaffirmed her understanding of the Christian life. The young

men who identified with the Catholic Worker movement during the war generally

spent much of the war years either in prison, or in rural work camps. Some did

unarmed military service as medics. One of the rituals of life for the New York

Catholic Worker community beginning in the late 1950s was the refusal to

participate in the state’s annual civil defense drill. Such preparation for

attack seemed to Day part of an attempt to promote nuclear war as survivable and

winnable to justify spending billions on the military. When the sirens sounded

June 15, 1955, Day was among a small group of people sitting in front of City

Hall. "In the name of Jesus, who is God, who is Love, we will not obey this

order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. We will not be drilled into fear. We do

not have faith in God if we depend upon the Atom Bomb," a Catholic Worker

leaflet explained. Day described her civil disobedience as an act of penance for

America’s use of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities. The first year the

dissidents were reprimanded. The next year Day and others were sent to jail for

five days. Arrested again the next year, the judge jailed her for thirty days.

In 1958, a different judge suspended sentence. In 1959, Day was back in prison,

but only for five days. Then came 1960, when instead of a handful of people

coming to City Hall Park, 500 turned up. The police arrested only a few; Day was

conspicuously not among those singled out. In 1961 the crowd swelled to 2,000.

These times 40 were arrested, but again Day was exempted. It proved to be the

last year of dress rehearsals for nuclear war in New York. Another Catholic

Worker stress was the civil rights movement. As usual Day wanted to visit people

who were setting an example. Therefore she went to Koinonia, a Christian

agricultural community in rural Georgia where blacks and whites lived peacefully

together. The community was under attack when Day visited in 1957. One of the

community houses had been hit by machine-gun fire and Ku Klux Klan members had

burned crosses on community land. Day insisted on taking a turn at the sentry

post. Noticing an approaching car had reduced its speed; she ducked just as a

bullet struck the steering column in front of her face. Concern with the

Church’s response to war led Day to Rome during the Second Vatican Council, an

event Pope John XXIII hoped would restore "the simple and pure lines that

the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth." In 1963, Day was one 50

"Mothers for Peace" who went to Rome to thank Pope John for his

encyclical Pacem in Terris. Close to death, the pope couldn’t meet them

privately, but at one of his last public audiences he blessed the pilgrims,

asking them to continue their labors. They had reason to rejoice in December

when the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World was approved by the

bishops. The Council’s described as a crime against God and humanity any act of

war "directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast

areas with their inhabitants." The Council called on states to make legal

provision for conscientious objectors while describing as "criminal"

those who obey commands which condemn the innocent and defenseless. Acts of war

causing "the indiscriminate destruction of … vast areas with their

inhabitants" were the order of the day in regions of Vietnam under intense

U.S. bombardment in 1965 and the years following. Many young Catholic Workers

went to prison for refusing to cooperate with conscription, while others did

alternative service. Nearly everyone in Catholic Worker communities took part in

protests. Many went to prison for acts of civil disobedience. Probably there has

never been a newspaper so many of whose editors have been jailed for acts of

conscience. Day herself was last jailed in 1973 for taking part in a banned

picket line in support of farmworkers. She was 75. Day lived long enough to see

her achievements honored. In 1967, when she made her last visit to Rome to take

part in the International Congress of the Laity, she was one of two Americans –

the other an astronaut — invited to receive Communion from the hands of Pope

Paul VI. On her 75th birthday the Jesuit magazine America devoted a special

issue to her, finding in her the individual whom best exemplified the aspiration

and action of the American Catholic community during the past forty years. Notre

Dame University presented her with its Laetare Medal, thanking her for

"comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable." Among those

who came to visit her when she was no longer able to travel was Mother Theresa

of Calcutta, who had once pinned on Day’s dress the cross worn only by fully

professed members of the Missionary Sisters of Charity. Long before her death

November 29, 1980, Day found herself regarded by many as a saint. No words of

hers are better known than her abrupt response, "Don’t call me a saint. I

don’t want to be dismissed so easily." Nonetheless, having herself

treasured the memory and witness of many saints; she is a candidate for

inclusion in the calendar of saints. The Claretians have launched an effort to

have her canonized. "If I have achieved anything in my life," she once

remarked, "it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about

God." I think that Dorothy Day is a good example of what people are capable

of doing. I was interested in this topic because of that nice couple that came

to class. I was really interested in what they had to say. It is amazing how

people can commit their life to God and his will of charitable services to those

in need. I find their devotion to there vocation most inspiring. I only hope

that I too will find my calling in life, and pursue it with as much vigor.


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