Guest Columnists

The Legacy of Faith Of Dorothy Day

Several weeks after Servant of God Dorothy Day’s funeral, I was interviewed for a television program in 1981 by a “liberated nun.” She asked me, “What is the legacy of Dorothy Day?” Without hesitation, I said: “Her faith!” The nun was nonplussed, for she thought I would have said: “Her activism, her protests against war,” and so forth. (Today, the nun’s congregation no longer exists.)

Dorothy converted in 1927 after first having her baby daughter baptized. She was a single mother. As Dorothy wrote in her memoir “The Long Loneliness,” she was tired of “floundering through so many years … doubting, hesitating, undisciplined and amoral.”

For her, the Church, “Holy Mother the Church” in her words, offered forgiveness. Of her decision, she said, “I never regretted it.”

Dorothy was introduced by her mentor Peter Marin, a former Christian Brother and educator, to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the lives of the saints, and the papal encyclicals. This was the foundation of her mission in life, which she referred to as a pilgrimage. She centered her life first on Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, “Christ is an event,” an encounter.

In a diary entry, she wrote, “The Mass is the most important thing that we do.” In later years she lamented that “we are losing sight of the spiritual.” Today, Pope Francis and the bishops have called for a renewal of belief in the Real Presence, which so many Catholics do not believe.

Dorothy knew that the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving,” must be lived out in our daily lives, that is, as an incarnational faith. As Christ feeds us with himself, we are called to live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Dorothy taught that the way to peace is performing the works of mercy. Her mission remains vital today as the technocratic, centralized, bureaucratic state becomes ever more powerful and depersonalizing. As she understood, Christ never told Caesar to care for the poor.

Dorothy throughout her life read the psalms, went to daily Mass, and read Thomas à Kempis’s devotional classic “The Imitation of Christ.” Her favorite saint was St. Therese de Lisieux, whose “little way,” humility, is the foundation of faith — so grossly absent in today’s materialist, politicized, and ideological world. Dorothy never questioned Church doctrine or moral teaching.

In 1972, in “A Letter to Fr. Daniel Berrigan,” she wrote: “The teaching of Christ, the Word, must be held up.”

The American bishops have declared Dorothy Day one of the most significant Catholics of the 20th century. Her life, as the life of any saint, remains a powerful example because she believed the Truth who is Jesus Christ: yesterday, today, and forever.

Father Geoffrey Gneuhs served as chaplain to Dorothy Day and gave the eulogy at her funeral in December 1980. He is an artist and maintains his studio at St. Jean Baptiste Church in New York City.