Catholic 'Hero' Dorothy Day's Road To Sainthood

Weekend Edition host Scott Simon talks with the Rev. James Martin about the push for the canonization and eventual sainthood of Dorothy Day, the American-born mother of the Catholic Worker movement.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Dorothy Day, the mother of the Catholic Worker Movement, is considered a hero, by many - and a radical by just as many, including her admirers. And now, she may be made a saint. Last month, New York's Timothy - Cardinal Dolan called Dorothy Day "a saint for our time," at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and the bishops voted unanimously to advance the campaign for her to be canonized.

Now, Dorothy Day embraced a number of causes that today's world would sometimes find hard to see, in the same person. For more on what the push for her canonization may say about the church, we turn to Father James Martin - a Jesuit, cultural editor of the Jesuit magazine "America," and a busy author whose most recent book is "Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life." Father Jim, thanks very much for being with us again.

THE REV. JAMES MARTIN: My pleasure.

SIMON: Tell us about Dorothy Day. Pacifist, anarchist - how else do we fill in that blank?

MARTIN: Pacifist, anarchist, holy person. She was born in 1897. Quick, thumbnail sketch of her life: She went to the University of Illinois; and after graduating, went to New York, to become a journalist with a socialist daily newspaper. She becomes attracted to religion, in the midst of a very bohemian life. She joins the Catholic Church. And soon afterwards, she starts to wonder how she can marry her desire to help the poor, with her newfound Catholicism. And she founds the Catholic Worker newspaper with a man named Peter Maurin. And that becomes a movement - to help the poor, and the homeless, in the cities. And then she becomes known, towards the end of her life, for pacifism; for a - sort of a robust defense of the poor, and a critique of the systems that keep the poor, poor. And she dies in 1980.

SIMON: Didn't Dorothy Day have an abortion, at one point?

MARTIN: She did. She had an abortion, early in her life. It was a terrible experience for her; and she thought after that, that she might not be able to have children. And that's one of the reasons that the birth of her daughter was such a glorious moment. In her book, "The Long Loneliness," that's one of the things that leads to her conversion. She wants her daughter to be baptized, and brought into the church; and she, herself, enters the church. And so this great gift of life gives Dorothy Day this great gift of faith.

SIMON: And what's the controversy about, people who propose her canonization?

MARTIN: Well, there are a couple of controversies. The first is - the New York Times reported recently that there is the thought that some people are trying to make her message into one that is focused on abortion, and also a defense of religious freedom. The other controversy that's kind of bubbling in the church, is her famous quote "don't make me a saint; I don't want to be dismissed that easily" - you know, which a lot of experts say, you know, meant during her life. So those are the two things that people are talking about. But there is no one that says she's not a saint. So that's certainly not controversial.

SIMON: And I notice, in what I'll - (laughter) what I'll refer to as the secular press - has leapt on what they seem to sometimes see as a contradiction between Cardinal Dolan in New York, and a lot of policies he's exemplified; and now, his embrace of Dorothy Day. Do you see that - recognizing you're in that archdiocese, to be sure. Do you see that as any kind of contradiction?

MARTIN: No. The church really is - as he said, in that article - both/and, and so is Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day was very - had a very traditional devotion to the saints, for example. She was, you know, pro-life, of course. And she was also vociferous about her opposition to war, to capitalism. She was very strong about opposition to - sort of things that kept people poor, as a result of the capitalist system. This is all part of Catholic teaching. If you're going to criticize Dorothy Day for all those positions, you can criticize Pope Benedict too, who talked about income distribution. She's following the Gospel. She's living a life of peace, and a life of service to the poor. And I think that's always disturbing; the same way that Jesus was disturbing, in his time.

SIMON: Astonishingly - as these things sometimes work out - Dorothy Day died this week, in 1980. There are people, probably, in your very block, Jim, who can remember her.

MARTIN: There are people in my Jesuit community who worked with her. You know, you can throw a stone in New York, and hit people that worked with Dorothy Day. And I - to be reminded that the saints are not these semi-mythical creatures, but that are people who have walked among us, I think is an important part of why the Catholic Church points to these people. The Catholic Church raises them up for us to look at, and to say that you can do it, too. Even if you had an abortion, and had a lost early life, you can be a saint yourself, just like Dorothy Day; which I think is very inspiring.

SIMON: Father Jim, talk to you again. Thanks very much.

MARTIN: My pleasure.

SIMON: Father James Martin, joining us from New York.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: