CHAPTER 8---DOROTHY DAY
By: David L. Gregory
Dorothy Day was a “divine obedient” (civil disobedient) throughout her life. She lived
and practiced the adage that, if you truly give to God that which is God’s, there should not be
much left to give to Caesar.1 She was a champion for peace, and a deep critic of materialism. An
enthusiast of the great Russian novelists, she believed that the world would be saved by beauty.2
She was anarchist, a card-carrying member of the Wobblies, the International Workers of
the World.3 She was never a member of the Communist Party, but her principles and her
activism were rooted in the social, the communal, and the personal, always emphasizing the
dignity of the individual person. Like St. Francis of Assisi, she endeavored to see Christ in every
In her late twenties, she became a Catholic. She was radical in her social action, and
orthodox in her theology. She appreciated the moral lessons of great literature, and they
supplemented her grounding in daily prayer, reading Scripture, and the Holy Sacrifice of the
According to the Book of Matthew in the New Testament, Jesus concedes that citizens should “render unto Caesar
the things which are Caesar’s…”, however he adds that citizens also must also give “…unto God what is God’s.”
See WILLIAM D. MILLER, DOROTHY DAY: A BIOGRAPHY 36 (1982).
See id. at 147; DOROTHY DAY, THE LONG LONLINESS 52 (1959).
See MEL PIEHL, BREAKING BREAD: THE CATHOLIC WORKER AND THE ORIGINS OF CATHOLIC RADICALISM IN
AMERICA 63 (1982).
Mass.5 She may be the most important Catholic in the history of the Catholic Church in the
Her relationship to law was, therefore, interesting and problematic. Jesus came in
fulfillment of the law. Dorothy Day fervently practiced the two great commandments, love of
God and love of neighbor.6 The Catholic Worker houses of hospitality are variations on the
theme of the Good Samaritan---they are the sheltering inns to which the Good Samaritans bring
the wounded travelers in this life.7
Dorothy Day actualized the Gospel of St. Matthew. Heaven is the way to heaven, and we
will enter heaven only with what we have given away in this life to those in need.8
Much secular “law” in the materialist and war economy of the United States is not just,
and is contrary to God’s law written in the human heart. Dorothy Day was a zealous devotee of
God’s law, and had little use for anything that was an impediment to the Law of Love.
These broad themes are revealed in her life of activism for peace, her opposition to war
and to materialism,9 her solidarity with workers, and her personalist emphasis on the dignity of
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 192-201 (1982).
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21.
See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER 10 (Rosalie Riegle Troester ed., 1993).
She first achieved fame as a journalist. In 1933, while living in New York in the depths
of the Great Depression, she co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper as the deliberate
alternative to the Daily Worker newspaper of the Communist Party.10 She concurrently initiated
the Catholic Worker movement, which opened "houses of hospitality" throughout the United
States, Canada and Europe.11 These sites were established for the purpose of providing shelter
for the homeless population and special care for the psychologically disabled.12
Dorothy Day's personal life of special solidarity with the poor inspired many, including
Thomas Merton,13 the Trappist monk, Cesar Chavez, President of the United Farm Workers
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 254 (1982).
See id., at 259-60.
See id., at 259-60.
See Frank J. Macchiarola, Reflections on Thomas Merton on the 25 th Anniversary of his Death, CARDOZO STUD. L.
& LITERATURE 265 (1993) Merton's primary works include: THE ASCENT TO TRUTH (1951); THE ASIAN JOURNAL OF
THOMAS MERTON (1973); THE BEHAVIOR OF TITANS (1961); CABLES TO THE ACE: OR, FAMILIAR LITURGIES OF
MISUNDERSTANDING (1968); THE CLIMATE OF MONASTIC PRAYER (1969); THE COLLECTED POEMS OF THOMAS
MERTON (1977); THE CONJECTURES OF A GUILTY BYSTANDER (1966); CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER (1971);
CONTEMPLATION IN A WORLD OF ACTION (1973); THE COURAGE FOR TRUTH: THE LETTERS OF THOMAS MERTON TO
WRITERS (1993); DEVELOPING A CONSCIENCE (1992); DISPUTED QUESTIONS (1960); DOES GOD HEAR OUR PRAYER?
(1988); ELECTED SILENCE: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THOMAS MERTON (1954); EMBLEMS OF A SEASON OF FURY
(1963); FAITH AND VIOLENCE: CHRISTIAN TEACHING AND CHRISTIAN PRACTICE (1968); FAITH AND PRAYER (1988);
GEOGRAPHY OF HOLINESS: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF THOMAS MERTON (1980); HONORABLE READER: REFLECTIONS
ON MY WORK (1981); INTRODUCTIONS EAST AND WEST: THE FOREIGN PREFACES OF THOMAS MERTON (1989); THE
LAST OF THE FATHERS: SAINT BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX AND THE ENCYCLICAL LETTER, DOCTOR MELLIFLUUS
(1954); LIFE AND HOLINESS (1963); THE LITERARY ESSAYS OF THOMAS MERTON (1981); THE LIVING BREAD (1956);
LOVE AND LIVING (1979); A MAN IN THE DIVIDED SEA (1946); THE MONASTIC JOURNEY (1977); MY ARGUMENT
WITH THE GESTAPO: A MACARONIC JOURNAL (1969); MYSTICS AND ZEN MASTERS (1967); NEW SEEDS OF
CONTEMPLATION (1961); NO MAN IS AN ISLAND (1955); THE NEW MAN (1961); THE NONVIOLENT ALTERNATIVE
(1980); ORIGINAL CHILD BOMB: POINTS FOR MEDITATION TO BE SCRATCHED ON THE WALLS OF A CAVE (1962); OUR
FATHER: PERFECT PRAYER (1988); RAIDS ON THE UNSPEAKABLE (1966); RENUNCIATION OF DESIRE AND WILL
(1988); THE ROAD TO JOY: THE LETTERS OF THOMAS MERTON TO NEW AND OLD FRIENDS (1989); THE SCHOOL OF
CHARITY: THE LETTERS OF THOMAS MERTON ON RELIGIOUS RENEWAL AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTION (1990); SEASONS
OF CELEBRATION (1965); SEEDS OF CONTEMPLATION (1949); THE SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN (1948); THE SIGN OF
JONAS (1953); THE SILENT LIFE (1957); THE HIDDEN GROUND OF LOVE: THE LETTERS OF THOMAS MERTON ON
RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AND SOCIAL CONCERNS (1985); THOMAS MERTON ON PEACE (1971); A THOMAS MERTON
READER (1962); THOMAS MERTON ON ST. BERNARD (1980); THOMAS MERTON: A PREVIEW OF THE ASIAN JOURNEY
(1989); THOMAS MERTON: SPIRITUAL MASTER, THE ESSENTIAL WRITINGS (1992); THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE (1958);
A VOW OF CONVERSATION: JOURNALS 1964-1965 (1988); THE WATERS OF SILOE (1949); WHAT ARE THESE
WOUNDS?: THE LIFE OF A CISTERCIAN MYSTIC, SAINT LUTGARDE OF AYWIERES (1950); WITNESS TO FREEDOM: THE
LETTERS OF THOMAS MERTON IN TIMES OF CRISIS (1994); WOODS, SHORE, DESERT: A NOTEBOOK, MAY 1968
(1982); ZEN AND THE BIRDS OF APPETITE (1968).
Union, Robert Coles,14 the Harvard University medical professor, and perhaps the single most
famous "alumnus" of the Catholic Worker movement, the socialist, Michael Harrington.15
Harrington later eloquently challenged the nation with his classic book, The Other America,
which, in turn, served as inspiration for President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty."16
The primary focus of this Chapter will be an examination of the relevance of Dorothy
Day's desire and efforts to enhance lives of dignity for the poor and the marginalized.
The life of Dorothy May Day began in 1897, in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, New York,17 and
Robert Coles, the Harvard College and Medical School professor and writer, recounts poignantly his first meeting
with Dorothy Day.
She and another woman were sitting at a table together with what one could call a "one-sided" conversation taking
place. The woman sitting with Dorothy was speaking of things indiscernible to most of us of this world. Yet if
Dorothy hadn't a clue as to what this woman was saying...she sat there patiently listening. When Dorothy noticed
[Coles] standing before them, she simply asked, "Did you wish to speak with one of us?"
Mary Anczarski, Small and Daily Miracles, CATH. WORKER, Sept. 1993, at 7.
Michael Harrington graduated at the age of nineteen from the College of the Holy Cross in 1947. See VOICES FROM
THE CATHOLIC WORKER 120-22 (Rosalie Riegle Troester ed., 1993). After one year of very successful study at the
Yale University Law School, where he was invited to become a student editor of the Yale Law Journal upon the
basis of his first year law school grades, he withdrew from the Law School and went on to earn a graduate degree in
literature from the University of Chicago, in 1949. See id. Thereafter, he moved to New York City, where, for the
period from 1951-1954, he lived as a Catholic Worker. See id. Until his death from cancer in 1989 at the age of 61,
he taught political science at Queens College of the City University of New York from 1972. See Michael
Harrington Memorial Service Set, BOSTON GLOBE, Oct. 3, 1989, at 79; Robert Kuttner, Harrington's Democratic
Socialism Helped Give Capitalism a Humane Face, Atlanta J. & Const., Aug. 8, 1989, at A21.
Throughout his life, he was a prolific author and social commentator. See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER
120-33 (Rosalie Riegle Troester ed., 1993). Michael Harrington poignantly reflected upon his deep intellectual debt
to Dorothy Day and the Catholic worker in an interview just before his death. See id. His works include: THE
ACCIDENTAL CENTURY (1965); DECADE OF DECISION (1980); FRAGMENTS OF THE CENTURY (1973); THE LONG-
DISTANCE RUNNER: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (1988); THE NEW AMERICAN POVERTY (1984); THE NEXT AMERICA: THE
DECLINE AND RISE OF THE UNITED STATES (1981); THE NEXT LEFT: THE HISTORY OF A FUTURE (1986); THE OTHER
AMERICA: POVERTY IN THE UNITED STATES (1971); THE POLITICS AT GOD'S FUNERAL: THE SPIRITUAL CRISIS OF
WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1983); SOCIALISM: PAST AND FUTURE (1989); TAKING SIDES: THE EDUCATION OF A
MILITANT MIND (1985); TOWARD A DEMOCRATIC LEFT: A RADICAL PROGRAM FOR A NEW MAJORITY (1968); THE
TWILIGHT OF CAPITALISM (1976); THE VAST MAJORITY: A JOURNEY TO THE WORLD'S POOR (1977).
VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 120
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 1.
ended eighty three years later on November 29, 1980.18 Day's early years were anything but
those of a model Catholic. Like St. Augustine,19 much of her youth was spent indulging in the
offerings of the material world.20 She was a hedonist who had love affairs with many men,21 had
an abortion,22 attempted suicide,23 experienced two failed marriages,24 and became the unmarried
single mother of a daughter.25
Dorothy and her father, John I. Day, were never close.26 John Day's only true loves were
the racetrack and alcohol.27 John Day uprooted his family many times in search of a permanent
position writing about horses and horseracing.28 Only later in their lives were Day and her father
able to treat each other with civility.29
In contrast, especially during her early adulthood, Day was very close to her mother,
Grace Satterlee Day. Dorothy points out that her mother, though deprived of many material
See id. at 516-17.
St. Augustine of Hippo was a great Bishop and Doctor of the early Christian Church. Much of his early adult life
was spent in dissolute, wasteful living. His major works were The Confessions (R.S. Pine-Coffin trans., 1966) and
The City of God Against the Pagans (Philip Levine trans., 1966). For an excellent biography of Augustine, see Peter
Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (1969).
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 8.
See ROBERT COLES, DOROTHY DAY: A RADICAL DEVOTION 3 (1987) (stating that Eugene O’Neill, the famous and
troubled playwright, was among the many men with whom Dorothy Day had an affair at this time).
See id., at 3.
See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 79. Jim Forest commented on Dorothy Day, saying,
"[O]ne of the most important parts of her intercession was praying for people who had committed suicide. She had a
great deal of sympathy for them. Now probably that was partly connected to her apparent attempt at suicide when
she was a young woman." Id.
See COLES, supra note 21, at 7-8 (stating Day was married to Barkley Tobey and claimed a "common law"
marriage with Forster Batterham, the father of her daughter).
See id., at 9.
See DOROTHY DAY, THE LONG LONELINESS 24 (1959).
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 5.
See id., at 9, 14.
Only after Dorothy Day and her father were able to put aside some of their differences and begin a casual
friendship, were they able to repair their relationship. See DAY, supra note 26, at 24.
items, enjoyed the little things in life.30
On the whole, Dorothy's family was not an easy one of which to be a part. The Days
usually lived in poverty, primarily because of John Day's inability to find regular work, which
forced the family to relocate a number of times.31
Neither Dorothy’s mother, an Episcopalian, or her father, a Congregationalist,32 attended
church services nor took any steps to bring religion into their children's lives; Dorothy and her
siblings were not baptized as infants.33 Dorothy was eventually baptized and confirmed in the
Episcopal Church.34 However, her connection with Christianity proved to be weak during her
In the fall of 1914, Dorothy began attending the University of Illinois at Urbana,35
beginning a period of further distancing from spirituality, yet one of enlightenment to social
concerns. Her grades reflected a student without distinction.36 Her college days were marked by
dissatisfaction with, and distance from, religion.37 She was stirred by injustices, which she
believed to be the true human concern, and, to this end, she sought answers in Marxism.38
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 5-6.
See DAY, supra note 26, at 48.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 9.
See id. at 21.
See id. at 31.
See id. at 33.
Dorothy Day summarized her feelings at this time, stating that she felt as if “religion was something that I must
ruthlessly cut out of my life.” Disenchanted, Dorothy believed “[Religion] had nothing to do with everyday life: it
was a matter of Sunday praying.” See id. at 34.
See id. at 35.
Dorothy left the University of Illinois in June 191639 as a different person from the
impressionable, naïve, and relatively apathetic girl she was upon entering. She had developed a
passion for a relatively new and radical movement and completely ignored or dismissed two very
traditional institutions, namely religion and formal education.40
Upon her departure from the University of Illinois, nineteen-year-old Dorothy headed to
New York City. She received her first opportunity as a journalist with the Socialist paper, the
Call, a sister paper to the Masses.41 Perhaps an omen of future events rested in Dorothy's first
article, a chronicle of her attempt to live for a month on five dollars per week.42
When the United States entered World War I, Dorothy began appearing at Columbia
University student war protests.43 She resigned from the Call,44 began working for the Masses,45
and took up residence during the summer of 1917 in Greenwich Village, New York City.46 From
1917 to 1924, most of Day's friends and associates either lived, or were intellectually or
culturally connected with, Greenwich Village, especially as writers of new politics or new lives
in America.47 The most prominent of these was the playwright Eugene O'Neill.48 In 1918,
See id. at 47.
See JIM O'GRADY, DOROTHY DAY: WITH LOVE FOR THE POOR 35-39 (1993).
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 55. The Masses was a “magazine that began in 1911 as an insignificant socialist
publication emphasizing cooperatives.” Id. at 77.
See id. at 57.
See id. at 71.
Dorothy had been rebuked by Mike Gold, a co-worker she had been spending much time with, for repelling a
drunken anarchist’s sexual advances. She resigned the next day. Id. at 77.
See id. at 81.
See id. at 105.
See id. at 105. Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) was a playwright born in New York City. He won three Pulitzer
Prizes, and, in 1936, the Nobel Prize for literature. Many consider O'Neill the greatest playwright in the history of
the United States. His plays include: AH WILDERNESS! (1932); ANNA CHRISTIE (1921) (PULITZER PRIZE); BEYOND
EAST FOR CARDIFF (1916); BEYOND THE HORIZON (1920) (PULITZER PRIZE); DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS (1924); THE
EMPEROR JONES (1920); THE HAIRY APE (1922); HUGHIE (1941); THE ICEMAN COMETH (1946); LONG DAY'S
Dorothy began working for the Liberator, which succeeded the Masses and became an American
voice of the Russian Revolution.49 Day began a nurse's training course in response to her need to
do something for her fellow man.50 Dorothy mentioned of this period, "[T]hough I felt the
strong, irresistible attraction to good . . . there was also . . . a deliberate choosing of evil."51
It was also at this time that Dorothy met, and became infatuated with, Lionel Moise.52
Lionel soon ended their brief romance, throwing Dorothy into a massive depression, which
resulted in an attempt by her to commit suicide.53 Despite their breakup, Dorothy and Lionel
continued to have romantic interludes and in 1919, Dorothy became pregnant.54 Moise refused
to marry her and she decided to terminate the pregnancy.55
In 1920, only months after her tragic romance with Lionel ended, Day "married a man on
the rebound.”56 Her short-lived marriage to Barkeley Tobey was a disaster.57 In the summer of
1921, Dorothy left him and traveled to Chicago in an unsuccessful attempt to win Lionel back.58
JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (PRODUCED 1956); A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN (1956); MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA
(1931); STRANGE INTERLUDE (1927) (Pulitzer Prize). See Biography of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, Microsoft
Dorothy Day and Eugene O'Neill probably had a sexual love affair. See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC
WORKER 75 (Rosalie Riegle Troester ed., 1993). "[T]o hear Dorothy talk, she and Eugene O'Neill were simply good
friends. My impression of O'Neill was that if he were good friends with a woman, it tended to go beyond
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 119.
Id. at 123.
See id. at 125.
See id. at 136-7.
See id. at 137-8.
See id. at 140; VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER 95 (Rosalie Riegle Troester ed., 1993).
MILLER, supra note 2, at 143.
See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 95 (Rosalie Riegle Troester ed., 1993).
She said when she was twenty-two, she was exhausted, so she married this sugar daddy, just to go to Europe to take
a rest. What I remember about Europe is falling asleep on a yacht off Capri and having a drink in the Eiffel Tower.
When I got back, we were staying in the Hotel New Yorker. One morning I got up before he did and took all the
jewelry he had given me and put it on the counter and went home to my mother. Id.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 147.
While there, her focus shifted and she became a member of the International Workers of the
World (the "Wobblies").59
Upon her return to New York City, Dorothy reunited with some old friends whom
subsequently introduced her to Forster Batterham.60 A year later, the two were joined in a
common-law marriage.61 The aloof and inarticulate Forster, an English anarchist and biologist,
embodied none of the ideals that Dorothy admired.62 During the winter of 1925, Dorothy spent
much time indulging her many friends, celebrating and socializing. Dorothy bought a fishing
shack on the shore of Staten Island where, for four years, she focused upon her personal idea of
God's handiwork, that being nature.63 It was at this time that Day began to informally pray.64
In the beginning of June 1925, Day first began to feel physical signs that told her she was
again pregnant.65 Batterham found the prospects of a family, and especially fatherhood,
extremely unattractive.66 He deeply resented the pregnancy and Dorothy's new-found faith in
The birth of her daughter, Tamar Theresa Day, in March of 1927,68 sparked events which
further enhanced Dorothy's working class consciousness and simultaneously brought her closer
See id. at 150.
See id. at 166.
See id. at 166.
See id. at 170-1.
See WILLIAM D. MILLER, A HARSH AND DREADFUL LOVE: DOROTHY DAY AND THE CATHOLIC WORKER
MOVEMENT 55 (1973).
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 178.
See id. at 179.
See id. at 180.
See id. at 182-84.
to the Church. Years later, Dorothy recounted the resolve she had begun to feel after Tamar's
baptism, stating, "I had become convinced that I would become a Catholic."69 The August, 1927
execution of Sacco and Vanzetti induced in Forster a catatonic state and Dorothy left him the
Intellectual and Cultural Context---Personalism, and the Great Depression
Day's introduction to Peter Maurin was an event she later attributed to direct Providential
intervention.71 The editor of Commonweal magazine, a publication by liberal lay Catholics,
suggested that Day and Maurin meet. Maurin was one of twenty-two children, from a strong
family of Catholic peasants from southern France.72 Educated by the Christian Brothers before
emigrating to Canada and then to the United States (illegally, by the way) in his forties, after a
series of itinerant jobs,73 Maurin deeply believed in both the dignity of the worker and the
dignity of labor.74 The most important belief of Maurin, the autodidactic thinker, was the
practice of "personalism."75 According to Jesus, to love one's neighbor was the second of the
two greatest commandments.76 Maurin believed that this divine command could best be
achieved by renewing the Christian community.77 He became Day’s tutor in applied Catholic
Id. at 192.
See id. at 195.
See id. at 228.
Dorothy Day, Introduction to PETER MAURIN, GREEN REVOLUTION (1949).
Peter Maurin moved to Canada as a homesteader in order to avoid military service in France. After a couple of
hard years in Canada, Peter moved to the United States, where he worked at various jobs. He was an undocumented
immigrant in both countries. See ARTHUR SHEEHAN PETER MAURIN: GAY BELIEVER 88 (1959).
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 243.
Personalism, according to Maurin, was based on the subjective ideal. See id. at 244. He often stated in explaining
his design, “Be what you want the other fellow to be.” Id.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 244-47.
The Founding of the Catholic Worker---Newspaper, Organism, and Movement
In 1932, Peter Maurin proposed the production of a multi-part action program via a
newspaper, the establishment of round table discussions, the opening of houses of hospitality,
and the creation of farming communes.78 Day became his collaborator and instrument for
realization of his Catholic social vision.
The houses of hospitality were Maurin's way of combating the growing, passive, fatalist
belief that the state had to assume the social work which God wanted each person to perform.79
Day immediately adopted the idea and her Fifteenth Street apartment served as the first Catholic
Worker house of hospitality.80 Training the out-of-work was one of the key purposes behind the
establishment of the houses. The houses of hospitality soon attracted many young men and
women who were eager to volunteer their time and energy for the benefit of the poor.81
The first edition of the Catholic Worker was published on May 1, 1933.82 The fifty-four
year old Peter Maurin served as the tangible "rock" upon which the newspaper was founded.83
Dorothy was involved with all the work of the newspaper; fund- raising, circulation, and
See id. at 252.
See id. at 259.
See id. at 265-66.
See id. at 254.
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 3.
reporting, while Peter's role was that of theorist. Maurin ultimately became the elder statesman
of the Catholic Worker, contributing "Easy Essays" to its pages.84 Peter Maurin and his theories
were the catalysts that motivated Dorothy Day to find meaning and purpose in her life. Dorothy,
in turn, absorbed Maurin's ideas and communicated them on paper to the rest of the population in
more tempered fashion.85
The growth of the Catholic Worker from the 2,500 copies distributed on May 1, 1933 to
its peak of 185,000 copies sold in December of 1940 was truly dramatic; today, the paper
continues to be sold for a penny a copy. The Catholic Worker still delivers approximately
91,000 copies of each of its seven annual issues from its New York offices at Maryhouse, 55
East Third Street, on the lower East Side of Manhattan.
Dorothy Day’s Journalism
Day's greatest articles focused upon topics directly relevant to the general work force.
She developed a large working-class readership by reporting on strikes, union discussions, and
other labor issues. 86 Day, who strongly supported the union movement,87 came to know
influential union leaders very well.88 In her seventies, in the seventies, she was arrested in
California with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Worker Union, during a peaceful march for
See id. at 60-61.
See id. at 69.
See id. at 78.
See id. at 118.
Day was familiar with the like of Philip Murray, John Lewis, John Brophy, Harry Bridges, and Joseph Curran.
See id. at 78.
See NANCY L. ROBERTS, DOROTHY DAY AND THE CATHOLIC WORKER 73, 166 (1984).
Dorothy Day's column "Day By Day" was, in some ways, the centerpiece of the Catholic
Worker newspaper. It contained straightforward monthly essays presenting her personal views
on issues that appealed to the common person.90
Without question, the Catholic Worker was a major supporter of both the labor
movement and Christian ideals but by no means did it merely "report" the news. Its reporters
were often on the scene to support and participate in pickets or work stoppages.91
The Catholic Worker movement was one of the first Roman Catholic social initiatives
post-Reformation to support revolutionary Gospel applications throughout the social order.92 The
houses of hospitality distributed food to the hungry, provided beds for the homeless, and served
as "newspaper offices, volunteer centers, soup kitchens, boarding houses, schools" and "places of
Today, there are more than 130 Catholic Worker houses worldwide, scattered across
twenty-nine states and five foreign countries.94 Throughout the thirties and forties, Dorothy Day
visited many of these Catholic Worker houses in an attempt to provide whatever aid she could to
both the houses and those who benefited from them.95 Dorothy felt the Church should follow the
example of the hospitality houses and fill the empty rooms in rectories, seminaries and
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 79.
See id. at 91.
See id. at 95.
Id. at 96.
See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 569-76.
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 68.
monasteries with the poor; or, at the least, each parish should have a hospice for the poor.96 Her
living experiences at the Catholic Worker, her demonstrations against militarism and war, and
her solidarity with labor became the integrated bases for her many articles, which, in turn,
spurred her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, and her other more extensive writing.
During the sixties and seventies, the effects of both the natural effects of age combined
with depression caused by the ongoing departures from this world of so many of her early friends
began to limit Dorothy's advocacy; the physical aspect in particular. Her last major political
resistance and solidarity venture occurred in August of 1973 when she traveled to California to
join Cesar Chavez' United Farm Workers' protest.97 She thereafter returned to her Third Street
apartment in the New York City Catholic Worker House, where she remained until her death,
after a long illness, in 1980.98
Divine Obedience, Civil Disobedience, Peace Activism, and Pacifism
Dorothy Day was a pacifist even prior to her conversion to Catholicism. During her
tenure at the Call and the Masses, Dorothy vigorously protested World War I.99 She believed the
war had been caused by the imperialist competitive system. When the United States entered the
fray in 1917, Dorothy and her co-workers at the Masses were subjected to intense governmental
scrutiny. In July 1917, it was charged that the publication had violated the Espionage Act, which
permitted the postmaster general to direct postal workers to withhold unsealed materials they
See MILLER, supra note 64, at 106.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 500. In her support of Chavez and the Mexican interant workers, Day, “along with a
thousand-or-so others, was arrested and briefly jailed.” Id.
See id. at 517.
See id., at 71.
discerned to advocate treason, insurrection, or forcible resistance to law.100 The governmental
histrionics effectively closed the Masses down, robbing Dorothy and her anti-war associates of a
Given the discriminatory and oft cited charge that Catholics were un-American because
of their sole allegiance to the Pope, Day faced even greater scrutiny as a Catholic pacifist.
However, Day’s religious faith only served to strengthen her anti-war views. In fact, as a secular
radical Day had become disenchanted with the Left’s inability to make a difference, but as a
Catholic, she felt her faith provided her with renewed determination.102 She was able to
incorporate her religious faith into her pacifist stance. Day stated, “the Sermon on the Mount is
our Christian Manifesto.”103 Day believed Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor required the
practice of nonviolence. She argued nonviolence was as integral to church doctrine as the dogma
of the Immaculate Conception or the infallibility of the Pope.104
Day often faced conflicting loyalties to social radicals and the Church hierarchy. At the
outset of the Spanish Civil war, Day took a neutral stance, enraging many of her former socialist
and radical acquaintances, who supported the anti-Franco forces.105 However, she also drew the
ire of the church, who supported Franco’s Spanish fascists because of the anti-religious
philosophy of the anti-Franco communist forces. In response to the left wing supporters of the
anti-Franco forces, Dorothy replied, “[a]nd now the Communist is teaching that only by the use
of force, only by killing our enemies, not by loving them and giving ourselves up to death, giving
See Espionage Act, ch. 30, tit. I, 40 Stat. 217 (1917).
See Bob Guilis, The Masses: Where Are They When We Need Them?, GREENWICH VILLAGE GAZETTE,
September 28, 2002. The government revoked the Masses mailing permit and also pressured newsstands not to
carry the publication.
See Mark & Louise Zwick, Dorothy Day, Prophet of Pacifism for the Catholic Church, HOUSTON CATHOLIC
WORKER, Sept.-Oct. 1997.
Dorothy Day, Our Stand, THE CATHOLIC WORKER, June 1940, 1.
See Rosalie G. Riegle, Mystery and Myth: Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker, and the Peace Movement,
FELLOWSHIP MAGAZINE, Nov-Dec. 1997.
ourselves up to the Cross, will we conquer.”106 She also responded to those criticizing her
neutral stance within the church by stating, “[t]he Catholic Church cannot be destroyed in Spain
or in Mexico… we do not believe that force of arms can save it.”107 To Day, the question was not
about fascism, communism or capitalism, it was about pacifism.
During President Roosevelt’s Phony War of 1939-41,108 Day condemned his veiled
preparation for war.109 She argued, “[I]nstead of gearing ourselves in this country for a gigantic
production of death-dealing bombers and men trained to kill, we should be producing food,
medical supplies, ambulances, doctors and nurses for the works of mercy, to heal and rebuild a
shattered world.”110 However, the attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized American support for the
war effort. Many within the Catholic Church argued the American entrance into World War II
was justified.111 Even hundreds of Dorothy’s own Catholic Workers now ignored her call for
pacifism, believing the invasion required a military response.112 Day maintained that an invasion
did not justify a violent response. Arguing that pacifism did not mean appeasement, she argued
one should use spiritual weapons like prayer and reception of the sacraments and other forms of
nonviolent resistance to ward off invaders.113 Day pointed to the hypocrisy the government’s
expectation that Negroes be pacifists in the face of violent aggression in their own country while
not living up to the same standard.114
Dorothy Day, The Use of Force, THE CATHOLIC WORKER, November 1936, at 4.
Day, supra note 103.
See MICHAEL SHERRY, IN THE SHADOW OF WAR 36-44 (1995) Prior to a formal declaration of war, President
Roosevelt intensified his rhetoric and began to mobilize the military for, as he saw it, the “business of carrying out a
war without declaring a war.” See id.at 36.
See Day, supra note 103, at 4.
See Zwick, supra note 102. Msgr. John A. Ryan, founder of the Catholic Association for International Peace,
argued that the nation state should be the “authority on issues of war”, and used the just war doctrine to support the
Roosevelt administration’s decision to enter the World War II. See id.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 344-45.
See Dorothy Day, Work’s of Mercy Oppose Violence In Labor’s War, CATHOLIC WORKER, April 1941, 4.
See Dorothy Day, Why Do Members of Christ Tear At One Another, CATHOLIC WORKER, February 1942, 4.
Still, the majority viewed her position as unfathomable, and the Catholic Worker
movement paid a price. The Catholic Worker newspaper lost over 100,000 readers,115 and by
1945, only ten houses of hospitality continued to operate.116 Day persevered, and refused to tone
down her rhetoric. As the nation celebrated imminent victory following the bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dorothy mocked President Truman’s jubilance and referred to the
scientists who created the bomb as “murderers”.117 She argued God had already pronounced
judgment on America’s decision to drop the bomb. Dorothy wrote, “James and John (John the
beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said: ‘You know not of
what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save." She said also, "What
you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.’"118 Upon learning of the Holocaust,
Day did wonder aloud, “If I had known all this… would I have maintained my pacifism?” But
she added, “…all the violence didn’t save the Jews.”119
Following World War II, Dorothy Day continued to protest a growing military complex
in response to the heating up of the Cold War. The United States government initiated a number
of Civil Defense drills, which simulated a nuclear attack on New York City, during which
citizens were required to seek shelter.120 In order to highlight the futility of seeking shelter in a
nuclear attack, Day and other Catholic Workers, led by Ammon Hennacy, refused to take
shelter121and famously sat in park benches as the air raid sirens wailed.122 Not only did Day
hope the protests would reveal the drills as a farce, but also she saw it as an opportunity to
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 180.
See id., at 174.
Dorothy Day, We Go On Record the CW Response to Hiroshima, CATHOLIC WORKER, September 1945.
Riegle, supra note 105 at 3.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 283.
See id. at 266.
See Jim Forest, A Biography of Dorothy Day, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN CATHOLIC HISTORY (Liturgical
perform penance for her sin as an American “for having been the first to make and use the atom
bomb.”123 As a result of her protests she served some jail time, but continued, and on May 3,
1960, over a thousand protesters from the Catholic Worker, The War Resisters League, the
Fellowship Reconciliation, and other pacifist groups, led a peace rally in New York.124
Embarrassed, the government ceased the drills shortly thereafter.125
Dorothy Day protested the nuclear arms race. Her worst nightmare came agonizingly
close to becoming a reality. In early October 1962, President Kennedy became aware of a Soviet
nuclear buildup in Cuba.126 Kennedy sent a naval blockade of Cuba to force the missiles’
removal, bringing the world near “the abyss of destruction.”127 In response, Day visited Cuba in
order to give a human face to the Cuban people.128 In her column she wrote of meeting devout
Catholic families who feared an impending invasion much as American families feared a nuclear
strike.129 Day hoped to bridge American and Cuban people in spite of their governments. She
condemned both nations for their continued militarization. She wrote, “I hate the arms buildup
in Cuba as I hate it in my own country.”130 However, she continued to strive to create an
understanding in the United States that “the Cubans are our next door brothers, and knowing
them, will love them.”131
Cold War militarization coincided with the holding of the Second Vatican Council. The
twenty-first ecumenical council of the church convened in four sessions in the fall of each year
Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage, CATHOLIC WORKER, July-August 1957, 3.
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 214-15.
See SHERRY, supra note 108, at 246.
See Riegle, supra note 105, at 3.
See Dorothy Day, On Pilgramage In Cuba: Part III, THE CATHOLIC WORKER, November 1962, 4, 6.
Dorothy Day, More About Cuba, CATHOLIC WORKER, February 1963, 4.
See id., at 4.
from 1962 to 1965. In 1963, Day was one of fifty “Mothers for Peace”, a group of international
peace advocates, who traveled to Rome to support and thank Pope John XXIII for his Encyclical
Pacem in Terris.132 In the Encyclical, Pope John XXIII asked that stockpiles of weapons be
reduced and nuclear weapons be banned.133 As pleased as Dorothy was by these words from the
Holy Father, she still longed for a “more radical condemnation of the instruments of modern
warfare.”134 In one of his last appearances, Pope John XXIII blessed Day and her fellow
pilgrims, thanking them for their efforts.135
In September of 1965, Day returned to Rome for the last session of the Second Vatican
Council.136 She wanted to ensure the Council included a condemnation of nuclear war and
support for conscientious objection in the pastoral constitution.137 She faced opposition from
certain factions within the Church hierarchy on both accounts. Some bishops argued that
without a nuclear arsenal the world could not face down communism, which threatened the
Church.138 Day mocked such circular logic. She claimed, “to establish a balance of terror, and
so keeping the world at peace was long ago condemned by Benedict XV, who spoke of ‘the
fallacy of an armed peace.’”139 The idea of a conscientious objector concerned many because
they believed it caused one to choose church over state. Day was quick to quote St. Peter who
said, “we must obey God, not men.”140
See Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage, CATHOLIC WORKER, June 1963, 1.
See Encyclical Letter of John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963.
See Day supra note 132, at 6.
See Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage, CATHOLIC WORKER, October 1965, 1.
See Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage, CATHOLIC WORKER, December 1965, 2.
In order to “overcome the sprit of violence in the world,” Day took part in a ten day
fast.141 The women’s efforts were recognized during a Council session by Bishop Boillon, of
Verdun, France.142 On her return home in October, even before the Council had produced a
constitution, Day already deemed the trip a success, writing, “Everyone said our visits and our
fast and vigil (we each kept an hour before the Blessed Sacrament each day besides daily Mass)
did much good.”143
Dorothy’s optimism proved founded when the Council released “Gaudium et Spes.” The
document condemned the “indiscriminate destruction of cities,”144 declared the conscientious
objection a valid option145 and questioned the billions of dollars being spent on the arms race
while millions starve and suffer.146 Most satisfying to Day was the condemnation of nuclear
The Second Vatican Council had little effect on the escalation of violence in Vietnam.
Day was not blinded by the euphoria over the Second Vatican Council’s pronouncements on
peace. She understood that the clergy could speak out, but wars would go on.148 Not
surprisingly, Day gave little credence to the Defense department’s domino theory, which claimed
Southeast Asia was a needed plug to stop the flow of communist aggression. The conflict in
Vietnam, as Day saw it, was not over freedom or Christianity, but “our possessions.”149 As usual,
Day, supra note 136, at 8.
Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, December 7, 1965, at 80.
Id. at 79.
Id. at 83.
Id. at 80.
See Day, supra note 137, at 1.
Dorothy Day, Theophane Venard and Ho Chi Minh, CATHOLIC WORKER, May 1954, at 6.
Day viewed events on a grander scale, reiterating that Communists and Imperialists, South and
North Vietnamese are all sons of God.150
Catholic Workers were among the first to protest our government’s actions in Vietnam
through public protests and sit-ins.151 The movement benefited from the fact support for the war
in Vietnam was not as galvanized as it had been in World War II.152 The Catholic Worker was
not the pariah it was in its earlier anti-war campaigns, and now their past afforded them much
cachet with the next generation of protesters.153
However, as the war escalated, the methods of protest grew more drastic. In 1965,
Catholic Worker Richard Laporte immolated himself in front of the United Nations.154 Dorothy
was horrified and worried there would be “copycats.”155 LaPorte’s action was followed by less
severe acts of civil disobedience by the Berrigan brothers. Priests and Catholic Workers Daniel
and Philip Berrigan burned and poured blood on draft registration files in Cantonsville,
Maryland.156 The act was the first of its kind and encouraged other protesters to partake in
similar actions.157 Although Day understood the frustration of the protesters,158she worried
violent acts of protest or the destruction of property could leave the movement spiritually
See Day, supra note 137, at 8.
See Charles Catfield, Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker, and American Pacifism, FELLOWSHIP MAGAZINE, Nov.-
Dec. 1997, 4; see also Dorothy Day, On Pilgramage, CATHOLIC WORKER, February 1967, at 2. 23 young Catholic
workers entered St. Patrick’s with signs under their overcoats and during the offertory marched down the center
aisle with signs that read “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The incident made the front page of the NY Times. See id.
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 214-15.
See Geoffrey Gneuhs, Dorothy Day: AContemporary Saint? CULTURE FRONT ONLINE, (Fall 1998) available at
http.//www.culturefront.org. Day influence Joan Baez, Norman Mailer named his daughter after her, and at her
wake in 1980, Abbie Hoffman called her “the first hippie.” See id.
See Tom Cornell, Catholic Worker Pacifism: An Eyewitness to History, CATHOLIC WORKER HOMEPAGE,
available at www.catholicworker.com.
See Catfield, supra note 150, at 4.
See Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage, CATHOLIC WORKER, June 1970, at 1. Day empathized with the
disenchantment of many of the young protesters in the face of such little progress. Id.
vulnerable. She always supported the Berrigans, expressing her love and offering her prayers,
but she maintained that the destruction of property violated the golden rule, “do unto others as
you would have them do unto you.”159
The Catholic Worker movement gained a number of converts due to its antiwar stance in
during the turbulent Vietnam period. Day had weathered the storm of negative public reaction
for her advocacy of pacifism. Vilified in the thirties, she was now celebrated. Today, there are
185 Catholic Worker houses of hospitality in the U.S. and globally.160 The Catholic Worker
now delivers 91,000 copies of each of its seven annual issues from its New York offices. 161 Its
mission and its faith continue to be known.162 Plowshares and Pax Christi, contemporary social
justice movements, both opposing the use of nuclear weapons and promoting peace through
nonviolent civil disobedience, can be traced to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker.163
The Political Theory of Dorothy Day
She never proclaimed a grand masterwork or a sophisticated intellectual agenda. Instead,
her political theory, loosely and broadly construed, can be best understood as manifestations of
her applied journalism and social activism, framed by her Catholic faith and commitment to
social justice through the Gospel of St. Matthew and the performance of the corporal works of
See Dorothy Day, Dan Berrigan In Rochester, CATHOLIC WORKER, Dec. 1970, at 6.
CATHOLIC WORKER MOVEMENT HOMEPAGE, (October 2002) available at http://www.catholicworker.com.
See Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation, CATHOLIC WORKER, Dec. 1995, at 2.
See The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker, CATHOLIC WORKER, May 2002.
The aim of the Catholic Worker movement is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ.
This aim requires us to live in a different way. We recall the words of our founders, Dorothy Day who said, "God
meant things to be much easier than we have made them," and Peter Maurin who wanted to build a society "[w]here
it is easier for people to be good."
Riegle, supra note 105, at 4.
She was an applied pragmatist, not an abstract theoretician. Most importantly, she
"practiced what she preached" and she lived her beliefs.
Solidarity with Workers, and Workers’ Rights
The dignity of meaningful work, especially through the mediating device of the
organized labor union, is a very important unifying thread between the individual and the
responsible community. Dignified work contributes significantly to fundamental human dignity
and the absence of such work can significantly retard progress toward the establishment of that
dignity.164 The key operatives in Dorothy Day's political theory are the philosophy of
personalism, which stresses the centrality of the individual, and the social organizing principle of
subsidiarity, which emphasizes the important constituent components of the local community as
the primary locus for political organization.165
The Primacy of Personalism
Preeminence in the philosophy of personalism is placed upon the dignity of the individual
The fundamental goal of public policy is the enhancement of human dignity. See generally HAROLD D.
LASSWELL & MYRES S. MCDOUGAL, JURISPRUDENCE FOR A FREE SOCIETY: STUDIES IN LAW, SCIENCE AND POLICY
(1992). This is the core insight of the Yale policy sciences jurisprudence, founded by Myres McDougal and Harold
Lasswell more than fifty years ago. See generally id. For discussion of hominocentric politics, see HAROLD D.
LASSWELL & ABRAHAM KAPLAN, POWER AND SOCIETY: A FRAMEWORK FOR POLITICAL INQUIRY XXIV (1950).
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 244-45.
The philosophy of personalism is at the center of Catholic social teaching.167
Personalism holds that human beings are created in the likeness of God and are endowed by God
with a soul, an intellect, and a rational free will.168 As the creatures of God, made in God's
image and possessing these innate spiritual attributes, humans cannot be regarded merely as a
means to a goal or reified as objects. Rather, every human being must be treated as a subject in
and of himself. The philosophy of personalism thus affirms two basic human needs: the material
physical need and the need for dignified work. Addressing these necessities is a central
requirement of a properly functioning social order.169 Through the philosophy of personalism, a
person realizes his or her potential when their unique talents are utilized in their work.170
Personalism is an integrated and holistic philosophy that respects the individual and pays
full attention to the physical and moral dimensions of the human character.171 Personalism was
recognized through the work of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers by direct application of
the philosophy in their newspaper, houses of hospitality, and job training schools.172
Were it not for Peter Maurin, personalism may have remained solely in the realm of the
conceptual. Dorothy Day's mentor translated the philosophy of personalism into action through
See Edward J. O'Boyle, Homo Socio-Economicus: Foundational to Social Economics and the Social Economy,
52 REV. SOC. ECON. 292 (1994).
VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 578.
See MILLER, supra note 64, at 6.
See O’Boyle, supra note 166, at 299.
See id. at 299-300.
See JOSEPH AMATO, MOUNIER AND MARTAIN: A FRENCH CATHOLIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE MODERN WORLD
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 168-80.
urging for agrarian manual labor.173 Thomas Jefferson preceded Maurin as a great champion of
agrarian personalism in the United States.174
Personalism is closely related to the social organization principle of subsidiarity.175
Subsidiarity emphasizes that local, community-centered organizations are the most efficacious,
most conducive, and most responsive associations in existence for the fulfillment of social
The Principle of Subsidiarity
The principle of subsidiarity, simply stated, holds that political and social activity should
be reduced to the most immediate and local context possible.177 This tenet was at the root of
Dorothy Day's vision of political action and continues to vitalize the Catholic Workers' mission
statement, which supports any effort in which money is merely a medium of exchange and where
See MILLER, supra note 64, at 100.
See STANLEY ELKINS & ERIC MCKITRICK, THE AGE OF FEDERALISM 195 (1993). In discussing the emergence of
the Jeffersonian Republican Party in the 1790s, in their Pulitzer prize winning book, Elkins and McKitrick describe
the essays by the Jeffersonian Republicans, heralding the virtues of the agrarian citizen:
"The class of citizens who provide at once their own food and their own raiment, may be viewed as the most truly
independent and happy. They are more: they are the best basis of public liberty and the strongest bulwark of public
safety." They are exempt from the "distresses and vice of overgrown cities," and it follows "that the greater the
proportion of this class to the whole society, the more free, the more independent, and the more happy must be the
society itself." Id. at 269.
See Thomas C. Kohler, Lessons from the Social Charter: State, Corporation, and the Meaning of Subsidiarity, 43
U. TORONTO L.J. 607, 614-21 (1993).
See id. at 620.
See O’Boyle, supra note 166, at 295 n.5. There is an impressive body of scholarship on subsidiarity, both in
theory and in its applications. See, e.g., George A. Bermann, Taking Subsidiarity Seriously: Federalism in the
European Community and the United States, 94 COLUM. L. REV. 331 (1994); Deborah Z. Cass, The Word that Saves
Maastricht? The Principle of Subsidiarity and the Division of Powers Within the European Community, 29
COMMON MKT. L. REV. 1107 (1992); Thomas C. Kohler, Lessons from the Social Charter: State, Corporation, and
the Meaning of Subsidiarity, 43 U. TORONTO L.J. 607 (1993); W. Gary Vause, The Subsidiarity Principle in
European Union Law-American Federalism Compared, 27 CASE W. RES. J. INT’L L. 61 (1995).
human beings are not treated as commodities.178
Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker refused to pay any federal income taxes, because
of the war economy and materialism of our late capitalist political economy. Because of the
principle of subsidiarity, however, Dorothy and the Worker believed in, and paid, local taxes, as
good members of the local community.
Subsidiarity is powerfully situated in Catholic social theory, possessing political roots
many centuries old. At its core, it champions both social cooperation and responsible self-
determination. For instance, Catholic social theory regarding activism focuses on individual
self-help via the merger of labor union with supplementary social legislation.179 The principle of
subsidiarity was integral to the first modern papal encyclical on the rights of workers, Rerum
Novarum, which was promulgated in 1891.180
Closely related to the philosophy of personalism, the principle of subsidiarity emphasizes
individual free will and the primacy of the human being. It recognizes that "the state should
intervene and provide help (subsidium) for only that portion of need that the private sector is
unable to provision by itself."181 This dynamic, therefore, places effective decision-making
control in the hands of each individual and reaffirms basic democratic principles. Further, it
transforms the attainment of human needs from an exclusively individual concern to one of
concern to an entire society.
See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 577.
See Kohler supra note 175, at 303.
See id. at 304.
O’Boyle, supra note 166, at 295.
Subsidiarity helps us determine where the responsibility lies for meeting unmet needs. As
the weakening significance of the workplace and the neighborhood leads to greater dependence
on the state to provide for needs, personal freedom will be compromised.
On an individual level, local social groups provide the best forum for the kind of self-
determination envisioned in subsidiarity theory. Modern conditions have deprived many people
the type of local democracy called for by subsidiarity. As such, the decline of the notion of
subsidiarity inevitably follows.182
Personalism and subsidiarity both focus on the dignity of the individual person.183 While
personalism focuses on individual activism, subsidiarity calls for as many decisions as possible
to be decided on the smallest184 level possible, which may not necessarily be the individual level.
Where personalism seems to reject any form of communalism and materialism, in favor of
individual spiritual vision as a means to reshape the community,185 subsidiarity requires some
variety of mid-level organization, whether it be a public association, union, fraternal club, or
daily human interaction, in order to develop our abilities to directly control our lives and
See Kohler supra note 175, at 230. Professor Kohler proffers that deterioration of the “middle,” specifically
family structure, religious organizations, grass roots, political clubs, unions, and like institutions which normally
provides for us a key opportunity to teach and practice the idea of self rule, has led to the inevitable collapse of
individual autonomy. See id.
See Thomas C. Kohler, Individualism and Communitarianism at Work, 1993 BYU L. REV. 727 (1993).
See Jenny Scott, A Big Leap in the Pursuit of Smallness, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 30, 1995, at B5. The leading book of
the "smallness" movement is E.F. SCHUMACHER, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED
(1973). There recently has been the reemergence of an amalgam subset of subsidiarity and personalism, in the
manifestation of the desirability of "smallness." Id.
Their movement encompasses both ends of the political spectrum--from John McClaughry, a libertarian and former
advisor to President Ronald Reagan now living in rural Vermont, to Mr. Sale, who describes himself as not an
anarchist but an "anarcho-communalist." They find common ground in Mr. Schumacher's ideas about
decentralization, local control and community strength. Id.
See AMATO supra note 171, at 5.
Personalism and subsidiarity are two adjacent limbs on the tree representing the activities
and messages of Dorothy Day. Their intentional renewal and nurturing of public relationships of
mutual respect and accountability across the divisions of a pluralistic, atomized society—
whether via labor unions or the broader plane of working peoples' associations—make Day's
theory, practice, and Catholic social teaching, extraordinarily relevant today.
The Centrality of Labor
Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and the members of the Catholic Worker practiced what they
preached.. Day consistently emphasized the dignity and the importance of work while
encouraging the solidarity of labor with the unemployed and ever-present poor. Dorothy's
writing was eloquent and her personal commitment to, and solidarity with, workers was
magnificent. In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Day recounts how her awareness of
labor issues first emerged during college. She studied labor history and admired labor’s
Dorothy Day's first signs of a maturing labor consciousness, thus, were formed far from
the contours of Catholic teaching or the influence of the Catholic Church. In her autobiography,
she summarized the early social influences on her thought, including socialism, syndicalism, and
See Thomas C. Kohler, the Overlooked Middle, 69 CHI-KENT. L. REV. 229, 230 (1993).
DAY, supra note 3, at 44-45.
anarchism, while, Catholicism, on the other hand, was “a world apart” from her.188
In 1932, Day wrote a piece regarding a Washington D.C. convention of protesting tenant
farmers. In it, she recounts the poverty of the demonstrators, the willingness of the participants
to share food, and the comraderie which blossomed between the farmers, the poor, and the
unemployed.189 In reflecting on this work years later, Dorothy experienced shame and remorse
over her abstraction, her absence of solidarity, and her detachment from workers, eventually
coming to the realization “that after three years of Catholicism… I still did not know personally
one Catholic layman.”190 It was in this galvanizing epiphany experience that Dorothy Day's
labor and social consciousness as a Catholic was fused, rejuvenated, and revivified in a new,
different, transforming way.191
The first issue of the Catholic Worker newspaper, printed on May 1, 1933,192 gave Day
the opportunity she desired. The Catholic Worker embodied solidarity, speaking directly to
workers of all classes, but admittedly thinking first of the poor.193
Throughout the volatile period of labor organizing which accompanied the Great
Depression, Dorothy Day constantly supplemented her journalistic efforts in the Catholic Worker
See id. at 60-61.
See id. at 158-60.
See id. at 160-61.
See id. at 161-62.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 254.
DAY, supra note 3, at 199-200. Day described the solidarity of the Catholic Worker as follows: " The Catholic
Worker, as the name implied, was directed to the worker, but we used the word in its broadest sense, meaning those
who worked with hand or brain, those who did physical, mental or spiritual work. But we thought primarily of the
poor, the dispossessed, the exploited." See id.
by physically joining workers at job sites and on picket lines.194 In 1934, Dorothy and other
employees of the Catholic Worker picketed the Ohrbach Department Store in Manhattan, side by
side with the store's own striking employees.195 "The most spectacular help" Dorothy Day and
the Catholic Worker gave was through providing housing and food to strikers during the
formation of the National Maritime Workers Union in May, 1936.196
With the support of the Archbishop of Detroit, who urged her to "go to them, to write
about them," Dorothy traveled to Flint, Michigan to cover a sit-down strike being staged in a
number of General Motors' factories.197 For more than two decades, beginning in 1937, the
Catholic Worker was the intellectual home for the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists.198
At its zenith, the Association maintained fourteen chapters and one hundred labor schools, most
of which were concentrated in New York and Detroit.199
Perhaps Dorothy's most direct advocacy on behalf of labor was her challenge to Cardinal
Francis Spellman, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York. In 1949, the unionized
gravediggers of Calvary Cemetery, went on strike against their employer, the trustees of St.
Patrick Cathedral, principally, Cardinal Spellman.200 The strike continued for over a month,
until it was crushed by the Cardinal who personally ordered the union-breaking and whom led
his seminarians into the cemetery as replacement workers.201 Cardinal Spellman stated "his
See id. at 201.
See id. at 203.
See id. at 213.
See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 12-13.
See id. at 13.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 404.
See id. at 223.
resistance to the strike was 'the most important thing I have done in my ten years in New
York."202 He proclaimed that the union's strike was "communist-inspired" and that he was
"happy to be a strike breaker."203
Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker bore profound and direct witness to the Cardinal’s
egregious repudiation of Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers. Dorothy Day was one
of the few who publicly supported the Union.204 Day wrote a very eloquent letter to Cardinal
Spellman on March 4, 1949, noting of the strikers and their demands, “It is a question of their
dignity as men, their dignity as workers, and the right to have a union of their own, and a right to
talk over their grievances.”205 Day's letter emphasized the dignity of all persons, especially,
laborers. The letter stressed peace, conciliation, and the imperative of charity, decency and
kindness toward everyone.
Cardinal Spellman and Dorothy Day, in spite of, or perhaps because of this confrontation,
had deep respect for one another.206 Day was theologically and liturgically traditional, while
radical in her social justice activism. She once stated, "[w]hen it comes to labor and politics, . . .
I am inclined to be sympathetic to the left, but when it comes to the Catholic Church, then I am
far to the right."207
Id. at 404.
Letter from Dorothy Day to Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York (Mar. 4, 1949) (on file with
author, courtesy of the Marquette University Library's Catholic Worker Archives) [hereinafter Spellman letter].
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 405.
For example, the Catholic Worker has never concentrated significant attention to issues of abortion or
homosexuality. See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 63. "That was a very funny thing about
Dorothy. For all her radicalism politically, Dorothy had a profoundly conservative streak in her makeup. She was a
very conservative Catholic, theologically ...." Id. at 75. "Dorothy was an extremely orthodox Catholic, not at all
theologically a dissident. She certainly would not at all favor abortion. She would, I think take a very dim view of
The 1949 incident allows us to reflect upon, and appreciate, the authenticity of the
Catholic tradition and the way in which any Catholic can, and should, communicate directly with
his or her Bishop. Dorothy Day offered us a model of how to communicate within the Church
and about how to call to witness the Church's professed commitments to social justice.
The 1949 cemetery workers' strike clearly focuses on the attempt of Dorothy Day and
Catholic Workers to engage in responsible dialogue with the Church hierarchy. The relationship
between Dorothy Day, committed lay Catholic, and Cardinal Spellman, the most powerful leader
among the American Catholic hierarchy, was both very simple and very complex. Because
everyone in the Church is called by God to consider actions and their consequences, Dorothy
Day called the leadership of her Archdiocese to account for its actions in breaking the strike in
Dorothy Day's letters in early March of 1949 to Cardinal Spellman, in the context of the
cemetery workers' strike, can serve as a model. The Catholic Workers who picketed outside St.
Patrick's Cathedral and outside the cemeteries, in solidarity with the strikers in 1949, continue to
serve as worthy examples for the even more direct Catholic action of divine obedience today.
The ordained hierarchy is infused, and bound, by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and by Jesus'
injunction—it would be better for one within the clergy to have a millstone wrapped around the
neck and thrown to the bottom of the lake than to lead one of the least astray. The example of
Jesus prompts dialogue; the laity may write and demonstrate. Jesus also prompts, through the
homosexual behavior." Id. at 80; see also Alden Whitman, Dorothy Day Outspoken Catholic Activist, Dies at 83,
N.Y. TIMES, Nov. 30, 1980, at 45.
See COLES, supra note 21, at 85.
Sacrament of Holy Orders, the hierarchy to read, to listen, to speak, and to lead. If laity and
hierarchy do not engage in this often difficult, but indispensable, dialogue, the "alternative" for
us all is the millpond.
Today, Catholic Workers have begun asking the hierarchy to rethink institutional
distribution of wealth, by their divine obedience (peaceful civil disobedience). Catholic Workers
have engaged in divine obedience/peaceful civil disobedience, and have, by their words and
examples, urged alternative priorities in accord with the life and example of Jesus.
Even near the end of her life, Dorothy Day continued her commitment of physical
presence with the organization of workers. Her last major adventure came in August, 1973,
when she went to California to join Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers in demonstration. In
her support of Chavez and the Mexican itinerant workers, she, along with a thousand-or-so
others, was arrested and briefly jailed.209
With her lifetime of fifty years of direct and immediate solidarity with workers and with
the poor, Dorothy Day wrote of the absolute imperative of the fusion of labor practice and labor
theory, “Going around and seeing such sights is not enough…. One must live with them, share
with them their suffering too.”210 By taking up residence with the unemployed, Day observed
the stark and “pitiable” contrast between the organized workers who gained inner strength and
dignity from their work and their union, and the unorganized.211 This submersion of self into the
world of those you seek to understand and help was essential to Day who remarked, “Going to
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 500.
DAY, supra note 3, at 210-11.
the people is the purest and best act in Christian tradition and revolutionary tradition and is the
beginning of world brotherhood.”212
The struggle for workers' dignity must be perpetual and incessant. Although the poor
will always be with us, Dorothy Day reminds us, by her personal witness, to struggle valiantly to
improve the status of workers everywhere. She takes note of the achievements, though slowly
won, that workers have gained for themselves by utilizing strikes, the disfavored mechanism of
the labor movement.213
Throughout her half century of direct personal commitment to workers, throughout a half
century of participation in labor strikes and solidarity on picket lines, Dorothy Day always kept
the dignity of all persons—including the employees, with an emphasis on peace and conciliation,
and the imperative of charity, decency, and kindness to all—in mind.
Dorothy’s March 4, 1949 letter to Cardinal Spellman, urging him to negotiate with the
graveyard workers, rather than break their strike, perhaps best, and certainly most poignantly,
summarizes her practice and her theory. In imploring the Cardinal to go to the striking workers,
she was very cognizant of recommending a course of action that would allow the workers to
retain their dignity. After all, “It is easier for the great to give in than the poor.”214
Because of her personal witness, commitment, and solidarity with workers everywhere,
whether expressed on picket lines or in her newspaper, Dorothy Day's lessons for labor have
See id. at 212.
Spellman letter, supra note 139.
profound practical and theoretical significance.
Day’s unequivocal and courageous personal commitment to literally walk the picket lines
with striking workers and to be a member of the labor community in a real and dramatic way,
gives her understanding of labor special resonance and genuine meaning. Day's sense of labor is
best articulated and appreciated through her articles appearing in the Catholic Worker
newspaper. Dorothy's statements on labor reflect a rich, complex, and sophisticated mind. They
also reflect, at least equally, and perhaps in an even more compelling way, her deep, personal,
and lifelong commitment to workers as human beings. Day's essays and columns in the Catholic
Worker from 1933 until the immediate post-World War II period of the late 1940s best reflect
her fused praxis and theory.
From its inception, the Catholic Worker focused upon the universal world of work.
Remarking on the view of her co-founder, Day noted, "[I]n Peter's [Maurin] vision, work is a
gift. Given for the common good,—And the reason why one works is to share gifts and talents,
in common with others, to help create a better kind of society."215 Emphasizing the "catholicity"
of the paper, in both the religious and universal sense of that word, the Catholic Worker sought
the unity of workers.216 In a direct, working class language, the newspaper promulgated to
workers the social teaching of the Catholic Church, a social justice language that is thoroughly
integrative and truly universal. Only by working for social justice can a worker meet his duties
toward himself and God.217 The Catholic Worker unsparing criticized the aristocracy of
organized labor, repudiated the influences of atheistic communism within labor, and thoroughly
VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 104.
See id. at 104-05.
See Dorothy Day, The Dignity of Labor, CATHOLIC WORKER, Nov. 1934, at 4. Dorothy wrote, “we try to stress
the duty of the workers towards God and himself first of all. And the Catholic neglects those duties when he does
not work for social justice.” Id.
condemned the materialism of the capitalist ownership elites. Indeed, established organized
labor was not shielded from her criticism as she condemned their inattention to the poor and
unorganized in trades like textile and mining. She blames this “aristocracy of labor” for the
organizing success of radical trade unions who benefited from the bias the poor workers felt
against the established unions.218
Throughout the Catholic Worker essays is an ongoing call for pride and care in work on
the part of each individual worker. Even poor workers were not free from Day’s critique as she
acknowledged a “loss of pride in craftsmanship” on their part although she partly faults “the
mechanization of industry” for this unacceptable worker attitude toward work.219
The organized labor union was a major focus of Day's attention throughout the years of
her advocacy. The labor union is the greatest tool in a system of fallible alternatives and
mediating social structures available to the working individual. The labor union is not an end in
itself, but, rather, a means towards the achievement of human dignity, the central theme of the
papal encyclicals on the rights of workers.220 Wherever possible, Dorothy Day urged Catholic
Id. Dorothy notes the existence of graft in organized labor.
See Gregory Baum, THE PRIORITY OF LABOR (1982); CO-CREATION AND CAPITALISM: JOHN PAUL II'S LABOREM
EXERCENS (John W. Houck & Oliver F. Williams eds., 1983) ; GEORGE G. HIGGINS, ORGANIZED LABOR AND THE
CHURCH: REFLECTIONS OF A 'LABOR PRIEST' (1993); POPE JOHN PAUL II, LABOREM EXERCENS (1981); Pope Leo
XIII, Rerum Novarum, in PROCLAIMING JUSTICE & PEACE 15 (Michael Walsh & Brian Davies eds., 1991); Pope
Pius XI, Quadregesimo Anno, in PROCLAIMING JUSTICE & PEACE 41 (Michael Walsh & Brian Davies eds., 1991).
Catholic social teaching is an evolving body of ecclesiastical documents and a rich tradition of particular,
heterogeneous applications. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII commended workers' associations. See Pope Leo XIII, supra.
Forty years later, Pope Pius XI recommended associations of workers, managers, and owners, which via the
corporatism of national councils, would direct national economies. See Pope Pius XI, supra. Critics of this
corporatism regard it as ultra-conservative. Pope John Paul II was a powerful champion of the Solidarity movement,
a labor union political initiative which brought down the Communist government of Poland. See Pope John Paul II,
The Canadian and United States Bishops also have been eloquent spokepersons for the rights of workers.
Perhaps the most influential early work on Catholic social teaching on labor in the United States was that of
employees to strengthen the Catholic solidarity between one another by seeking each other out
both within the union structure and outside of it, in the non-unionized workplace. She pointed to
a third and better path, transcending both atheistic Marxism and capitalist materialism, for
solution to the problems of society.
In her February, 1936 Catholic Worker column, she emphatically stated that unions, in
their present American incarnation, were not ideally suited to solve “the social problem.”221 Day
did credit these imperfect unions of the time with the distinction of being “the only efficient
weapon which workers have to defend their rights as individuals and Christians.”222 Day
selected unions as the vehicle by which Catholic workers could “heed the exhortations of the
Popes to ‘de-proletarianize’ the workers” and thereby achieve a classless society.223
Unions must be autonomous and independent, with each individual constituent member
contributing to the collective common good.224 Day’s writing touched upon themes and issues
that were often eerily prescient of contemporary debates in labor policy and law. For example,
Day recognized that no benefit would be conferred upon workers represented by a company
union.225 In addition, Day understood the debilitating effects an “open shop” has on a union’s
Monsignor John A. Ryan, one of Father Higgins' intellectual mentors at the Catholic University of America. See
JOHN A. RYAN, A LIVING WAGE (1906); JOHN A. RYAN, DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE: THE RIGHT AND WRONG OF OUR
PRESENT DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH (1916) (discussing the moral aspects of the distribution of wealth).
I extensively discuss Catholic social teaching on labor in David L. Gregory, Catholic Labor Theory and the
Transformation of Work, 45 WASH. & LEE L. REV. 119 (1988); David L. Gregory, The Right to Unionize as a
Fundamental Human and Civil Right, 9 MISS. C. L. REV. 135 (1988). Catholic social teaching on the rights of
workers became popularized in the Academy-Award winning film, ON THE WATERFRONT (1953), inspired by Jesuit
priest John "Pete" Corridan's work against labor racketeering on the New York City shipping docks.
See Dorothy Day, Catholics in Unions, CATHOLIC WORKER, Feb. 1936, at 4.
See Day, supra note 155, at 4.
See id. at 7.
ability to collectively bargain.226
She particularly emphasized the critical importance of a collective consciousness, the
“sacrifice of individual freedom for the common good.”227 Union organizing was promoted for
its advantages for “workers as a whole”, in full recognition of the fact that individual workers
would be required to personally assume risks in order to fulfill “their duty of charity.”228 The
duty of each individual Catholic worker was seen as expansive and included a duty to “inform
himself of the Church's teaching on labor, and to strive for the common good of himself and his
fellow workers by applying them to labor situations in which he may be involved.”229
The Catholic Worker always focused on the international human rights dimension of
unionization. In a September, 1937, page one article, the Catholic Worker proclaimed, “The
Catholic Worker is not a local paper.”230 It is their Catholicism, their first and foremost
affiliation, that enables the paper’s readership to understand this proclamation and to embrace the
paper’s goal of “bring[ing] Catholic social principles [internationally] to the workers in
Beyond its standing as a natural right, the Catholic Worker elevated one’s “right to
organize” to the level of “duty”. Citing Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 great letter to labor, the readers of
the Catholic Worker were told “to organize into unions so that they could achieve better wages
Join The Union! Natural And Supernatural Duty, CATH. WORKER, Sept. 1937, at 1.
Join the Union!, supra note 164, at 1.
and hours of labor, better working conditions, and the right to be recognized as men, creatures of
body and soul, temples of the Holy Ghost.”232
Beyond taking issue with the word “bargain” which was disfavored for its derogatory
connotations of the buying and selling of human labor as a commodity, the Catholic Worker
emphasized the imperative of collective bargaining/action. The enhancement of human dignity
was the ultimate and imperative goal sought to be achieved by labor’s collective organization.
This was a goal of such importance that the worker, who was judged as unable to make any gains
on his own, was told, “He must join with others to form a union to better his condition.”233
Thus, the labor union is more than a means of organizing the workplace and benefiting
those who return to the job site each day; it has the additional imperative of seeking broader
social justice.234 In fact, once unionization and its improved lifestyle were achieved in their
town, workers were told to look beyond their own world and to help other towns reach the ideal.
This broad-based approach was acknowledged as requiring the support of nationalized labor
Central to Catholicism is the membership of each individual believer to a larger unifier,
the Mystical Body of Christ. As such, workers were meant to “realize the necessity to work as a
body.” 235 It was Dorothy Day who so powerfully re-invoked the Communion of Saints and the
Mystical Body of Christ. Again, this larger group affiliation assures that no individual worker
See Day, supra note 155, at 4.
Join the Union!, supra note 164, at 1.
Id. at 2
will be content “while his brother is in misery.” 236
Throughout, the Catholic Worker continually emphasized the example of Christ as
worker and his solidarity with, and position as liaison to, the poor.237 In order to exemplify the
brotherly love required from the Commandments, one must help their neighbor. In fact, God
cannot be loved “unless we love our neighbor.”238 Christ, the worker, set the example which all
should emulate, love the worker. Of course, no individual can achieve the improved conditions
Id. at 2
See id. Solidarity with, liaisons to, and preferential options for the poor have long been essential elements of
Catholic social teaching. Jesus Christ is the source of these teachings, through His life and many parables on themes
of wealth and poverty, for example: the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven" Matthew 5:3 (Revised Standard); the blessed widow giving her last coins to the Temple:
And [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many
rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he
called his disciples to him, and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who
are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in
everything she had, her whole living." Mark 12:41-44 (Revised Standard); see also Matthew 21:12 (Revised
Standard) (driving the money-changers from the Temple); Matthew 19:24 (Revised Standard) ("[I]t is easier for a
camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.").
In the social justice encyclicals of the modern Papacy, the fetishisms and pathologies of gross materialism are
uniformly and severely criticized, and solidarity with the poor is powerfully urged. Pope John Paul II's consistent
exhortations against materialism and for the poor are grounded in the first great social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in
1891, Rerum Novarum, who wrote, "the poor and unfortunate seem to be especially favored by God." Pope Leo
XIII, Rerum Novarum, in PROCLAIMING JUSTICE & PEACE 16 (Michael Walsh & Brian Davies eds., 1991). The 1971
Synod of Bishops echoed this theme in their document, Justice In The World: "Action on behalf of justice and
participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of preaching the
Gospel." Id. at 270. A theme repeatedly articulated and affirmed by the Catholic Bishops of the United States in
1986 in their pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All. See NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS,
ECONOMIC JUSTICE FOR ALL: PASTORAL LETTER ON CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING AND THE U.S. ECONOMY (1986).
Pope John Paul II powerfully continues to articulate these themes in his social encyclicals, LABOREM EXERCENS
(1981) and CENTESIMUS ANNUS (1991). I examine these themes in an earlier law review article. See David L.
Gregory, Catholic Labor Theory and the Transformation of Work, 45 WASH. & LEE L. REV. 119 (1988). In addition
to Papal encyclicals and Bishops' Pastoral Letters, there is a huge body of supporting commentary and analysis of
these social justice themes of poverty. See, e.g., JEAN-YVES CALVEZ & JACQUES PERRIN, THE CHURCH AND SOCIAL
JUSTICE: THE SOCIAL TEACHINGS OF THE POPES FROM LEO XIII TO PIUS XII (1878-1958) (J.R. KIRWIN TRANS.,
1961); RICHARD L. CAMP, THE PAPAL IDEOLOGY OF SOCIAL REFORM: A STUDY IN HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT,
1878-1967 (1969); JOHN F. CRONIN, CATHOLIC SOCIAL PRINCIPLES: THE SOCIAL TEACHING OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH APPLIED TO AMERICAN ECONOMIC LIFE (1950); DONAL DORR, OPTION FOR THE POOR: A HUNDRED YEARS
OF VATICAN SOCIAL TEACHING (1983); PAUL MISNER, SOCIAL CATHOLICISM IN EUROPE: FROM THE ONSET OF
INDUSTRIALIZATION TO THE FIRST WORLD WAR (1991); FRANZ H. MUELLER, THE CHURCH AND THE SOCIAL
QUESTION (1984); MICHAEL NOVAK, THE CATHOLIC ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM (1993); CATHOLIC
SOCIAL THOUGHT AND THE NEW WORLD ORDER: BUILDING ON ONE HUNDRED YEARS (Oliver F. Williams & John
W. Houck eds., 1993).
Join the Union!, supra note 164, at 2.
sought alone and as such, workers must band together. To not work collectively would be to
deny “Christ and His poor.”239
Perhaps Dorothy Day's greatest synthesis of her labor theory was set forth in the June
1939 issue of the Catholic Worker, in an essay entitled The Catholic Worker and Labor. The
emphasis throughout was on the example of Christ, and the teaching of the Church through the
great social and labor encyclicals of 1891 and 1931. Again, dignity of the individual person, a
being formed in the likeness of God, was stressed. De-proletarianizing the worker through a
shared ownership, and not widespread government ownership, was the social change sought.
The greater goal, the “dignity of man”, transcended things like mere wages and hours.240
The immediate post-World War II era saw an increasing sophistication and awareness of
the corroding effects of industrial production on the human psyche. These trends became
increasingly evident to the Catholic Worker as did the themes which drove them. However, no
attempt to commercialize the newspaper was made. The Catholic Worker continued to be sold
for a penny and Dorothy Day's theory of labor never became idealized or romanticized beyond
the hard lessons of the Christian gospel. In fact, Day took great pains to expose the false
romanticism, fostered by a lost concept of work, that upper middleclass intellectuals often
attached to organized labor.241
Dorothy Day shattered romanticism; she urged reality, and professed that, in reforming
reality, ideals can be envisioned and perhaps even achieved. Dorothy saw her lessons as
enduring ones. In an analysis eerily prescient of the high technology computer age, Dorothy
See The Catholic Worker and Labor, CATHOLIC WORKER, June 1939, at 1.
See Dorothy Day, The Church And Work, CATHOLIC WORKER, Sept. 1946, at 1.
concludes her September 1946 article on labor by pondering whether God will judge the
machine, “which has turned man into a hand”, and where thereby “he who lives by the machine
will fall by the machine.”242
Mass production de-emphasized the role of the individual, and compelled one to submit
oneself to a dehumanizing work process of " 'work without end,' which chains workers to
machines and especially to the authority of those who own and control them—capital and its
managerial retainers."243 This was the reality of the industrial assembly line era and the
newspaper worked to warn its readers against the growing false consciousness. The great sin of
which to be mindful was the dehumanization that comes from “submitting oneself to a
process.”244 This submission takes the form of becoming a mere extension of a machine, an
unthinking, but efficient, hand. The true danger of a factory is not in its threat of a lost physical
hand “but the loss of one's soul” from the relinquishment of oneself to the devil and to machine-
These continuing themes powerfully resonate in the express mission of the Catholic
Worker, as set forth in the annual mission statement, which notes that as the purpose of work
moves from human need to capitalist greed, workers are trapped in producing disposable goods
for the consumer society and without work that contributes to human welfare.246
Day, supra note 175, at 1.
See VOICES FROM THE CATHOLIC WORKER, supra note 9, at 577-78.
Dorothy’s ideas on social justice and peace reverberate today. Corporate scandals have
drawn the curtain back revealing the mighty and powerful Oz to be his true self, a mere scam
artist running a Ponzi scheme in an Armani suit. Dorothy would have viewed the scandals at
Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, etc., as mere byproducts of a defective system. Her
argument that capitalism is “Godless” because it defies Divine Providence, which has given good
things for the use of all men,247 would most likely resonate with the many employees who lost
their life savings over the past three years.
Dorothy’s mistrust of corporate America has gone mainstream in this new millennium.
Prior to the scandals, our nation of shareholders allowed the concerns of workers to become
secondary as long as our portfolios grew. Questions of corporate responsibility have injected, for
the first time in a long time, issues of morality into the business world. The free market has lost
some of its Darwinian sting, and concern for the “little guy” has grown. The employee who lost
his entire retirement package may now feel the full weight of the exploitative forces of
transnational corporations, and empathize with the third world factory worker. The Catholic
Worker’s emphasis on the individual may resonate among a betrayed middle class. As Dorothy
had observed, those who know poverty are often the most generous.248
In the midst of corporate greed, the spirit of Dorothy Day was conjured by a frail, Jewish
business owner named Aaron Fuerstein. Fuerstein is the CEO of Malden Mills in Lawrence,
Dorothy Day, Distributism v. Capitalism, CATHOLIC WORKER,October 1954, at 1.
Dorothy Day, Generosity of the Poor, CATHOLIC WORKER, May 1955, 2.
Massachusetts.249 In 1995, a fire destroyed the entire Malden Mills factory, basically putting the
entire town out of work.250 Rather than collecting the insurance money and running, Fuerstein
gave each of his 3,000 employees their $275 Christmas bonus and then paid the unemployed
workers their full salary for three months.251 Fuerstein believed in the community and thought it
to be unconscionable to leave.252 His refusal to treat his employees as commodities is the
epitome of the Catholic Worker’s call to respect the rights of the individual and treat money as a
mere exchange.253 He truly led by example. The fact that Mr. Fuerstein’s actions cost him $25
million254 only provided evidence of his personal sacrifice.255 It was also the supreme
repudiation of the bottom line. Dorothy Day extolled the award of virtue over profit, preferring
to rely on Divine Intervention.256
The Catholic Worker’s focus on the self-sufficient family and rural collectivism may be
too far removed from our modernized society. However, Fuerstein provides the example that the
idea of collective businesses or small factories may not be beyond the rationality of the
American businessman. Morality may now become a required course in business school. If we
have a “compassionate conservative,” could a “caring capitalist” be too far behind. Fuerstein
suggests no, and that would be one of Dorothy Day’s greatest legacies.
See Mark Shields, Two Extremes of Corporate Leadership, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, (December 3, 2001)
See The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker, CATHOLIC WORKER, May 2002. The Catholic Worker
advocates: “management of small factories, homesteading projects, food, housing and other cooperatives--any effort
in which money can once more become merely a medium of exchange, and human beings are no longer
commodities.” See id.
See Shield, supra note 247, at 1.
See MILLER, supra note 2, at 255. Day explained that in order to fully exemplify the personalist philosophy, “you
yourself must perform the works of mercy.” See id.
See PIEHL, supra note 4, at 59-60.
In Dorothy’s view, the terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington D.C. and
Shanksville, Pennsylvania, would no more justify violent retaliation, than the millions of Jews
killed during the Holocaust. Descendants of Day’s philosophy, Pax Christi and the Plowshares,
have called for restraint in response to the horrific attack.257 However, similar to the fervor
following Pearl Harbor, these cries are currently falling on deaf ears. The lustful calls for
revenge have drown out the calls for justice.
Since September 11th, it might seem easy to dismiss Dorothy Day’s strict adherence to
pacifism as mere sentimentality and not relevant in this complex world. Similar criticisms were
launched against Day while she was alive, in which she responded, “let those who talk of
softness, of sentimentality, come to live with us in cold, unheated houses in the slums. Let them
come to live with the criminal, the unbalanced, the drunken, the degraded, the pervert…. Let
them live with rats, with vermin, bedbugs, roaches, lice.”258 Day did not live in an ivory tower
theorizing, rather her views were grounded in the harsh realities of life.
Are Day’s calls for peace any more delusional than the government’s belief that military
might is capable of destroying hatred. Day deplored the idea of peace being achieved through
arms on a moral basis. Today, the idea seems equally deplorable on a logistical basis. We no
longer face another nation state made vulnerable by its predictability. It is no longer the enemy
we know. The men who perpetrated the acts of September 11th are dead, and so is possibly their
leader, it is the hatred that lives on and which is our new enemy. Arbitrary violent retaliation
See PAX CHRISTI/NEWS, Pax Christi Responds to September 11th, Fall 2001, available at
http://www.paxchristiusa.org; Robert A. Evans, Reflections on a Glbal Crisis, PLOWSHARES INSTITUTE, available at
Day, supra note 114, at 1.
may only serve to breed more hatred. In this case, Day would argue that spiritual weapons are
our greatest defense against the hatred that now threatens our nation. For it is the hatred we need
to remove not the individual.
Her words conjure sentimentality, but her overall philosophy of understanding others
shows a nuance that is mandatory in creating a sensible foreign policy. The Catholic Worker
currently asks why we are not reevaluating some of the policies that led to such blind hatred.259
It is not a sign of weakness to evaluate, but rather a sign of intelligence. As the Catholic Worker
has indicated, do we really want to go blow for blow with a group so immoral it would perpetrate
such hellacious acts.260 And if so, what does that say about our own morality? We must stop the
cycle of hatred. Dorothy’s ardent belief in the Mystical Body of Christ is much more relevant
today than fifty years ago. If we can use the Church’s teaching to guide us in the quest for social
justice for downtrodden people’s across the globe, we will be afforded the moral high ground,
usurping support from the terrorist’s support base. Without grassroot support, terrorists are
finished. Terrorism will only be defeated when the sea is removed from which the fish can swim.
As the President prepares a weary nation for an invasion of Iraq, the lustful cries for
revenge may dissipate. We already see a few questioning the righteousness and even the
advisability of an invasion.261 The progeny of Day’s activism stands vigil as the public begins to
slowly join the debate on the merits of such an invasion. Dorothy’s legacy remains the strength
of these organizations even in the current face of such nationalism. Dorothy Day would find it
morbidly ironic to hear the U.S. government justifying an invasion with the need to halt nuclear
See Bill Thomson, Combating Terrorism, CATHOLIC WORKER, September 12, 2001, at 1.
See id. The article argues that there is no way to stop people who are willing give up their lives to kill.
See Chuck Noe, Kennedy, Clinton, Gore Target Bush on Iraq, NEWSMAX.COM, September 28, 2002, available at
The current president invoked Dorothy’s name in a commencement speech at The
University of Notre Dame.262 President Bush advocated the use of the “weapons of spirit,”
although he limited their use to the war on poverty.263 The President’s distinction makes one
pause, if he believes that prayers are not powerful enough to stop aggression, how are such
prayers suppose to feed the millions of hungry. Who is being sentimental now?
See REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME, available at