For anyone who would have liked to meet Dorothy Day, to sit down with her, listen to her life story, and learn her philosophy and theology of life, this book is the opportunity. It presents her to the reader from every possible aspect of her life, from her peacemaking side to her conflictual or troublemaking side, from her hatred of war to her love for the church. One author calls her the patron saint of paradox because "she was a radical who converted to Roman Catholicism; an anarchist who willingly submitted to ecclesiastical authority . . . a single mother who espoused traditional family values while spending long periods away from home on public speaking tours. . . " (Jablonski, 325).
1997 marked the 100th anniversary of Day's birth, and on this occasion a conference was held at Marquette University (MU) in Milwaukee. Scholars and people who knew her were invited to give papers on some aspect of her life or history. This book is a compilation of those papers. In the introduction, William Thorn outlines the contents of the book, Susan Mountin describes her class at MU on Dorothy Day, and Philip Runkel speaks of the Dorothy Day archives at MU, how they came to be and what they contain.
Almost all of the essays are pure reading delight. They put Dorothy Day in the context of the history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century (O'Brien, 41-58). They explain how, for Day, there was no separation between theology and political theory (Baxter, 81). Both Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day believed in "anarchism," that is, a kind of personalism in which problems were taken care of on a personal level. They did not vote, pay taxes, or apply for tax- exempt status (Boehrer, 100). They believed that I must take action, not wait and hope someone else will (Coy, 175).
In terms of the Catholic Church, Day and Maurin were faithful dissenters. Day went ahead and published the Catholic Worker (CW) newspaper, even though Cardinal Spellman told her to either change the name or stop publishing. Day was always respectful of workers and employers, so much so that when the Cardinal sent seminarians in to break the strike of the cemetery workers, she wrote a poignant letter asking him not to do this. "You are a Prince of the Church," she said, "and a great man in the eyes of the world and these your opponents are all little men, hard working, day laborers, hard handed, hard headed men, filled with their grievances" (Gregory, 282).
One section of the book is devoted to Peter Maurin, Day's inspiration and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement (CWM). Maurin's ideal was small farming communities. However, his ideas were never very clear. He didn't believe in machines, pesticides, or even canning food (Collinge, 385-398). In fact, many of those who began CW farms were unsuccessful (Marlitt, 415). But Dorothy Day's manuscripts show that in Peter Maurin, she saw the face of God (Sicius, 420).
One of the characteristics of Dorothy Day's times was an American, Christian imperialism. Under Theodore Roosevelt, expansionism represented the advance of civilization, Pacifists and anti-imperialists were devoid of true patriotism (Krupka, 187-189). During World War II, when the Star Spangled Banner was played in church, Day sat. In her mind this supported the war, and war was murder wrapped up in flags. She drew upon the Mystical Body, initiated by Pius XII in 1943, to oppose any Catholic participation in the war. It was a highly controversial stance. Conscientious objectors had no institutional support from the church, only from the CW (O'Sullivan, 479). Several times she was put in jail for her protests.
The section on ecumenical perspectives includes essays on the Shakers, Jews, Protestants, and Buddhists, all of which comment on the common ground between these religions and the CWM. Socially engaged Buddhism is committed to non-violence, to an intimate connection between social action and spirituality, to community and decentralization, and to closeness to the land (Sniegocki 531). The Protestant peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren) were startled to discover that there was a Catholic group who refused to participate in war on religious grounds. The Shakers were pacifists, were founded by a woman, renounced voting, and were dedicated to simplicity (Piehl, 522). During World War II, Day spoke up loudly for the Jews, but neglected to say much afterwards (Ellis, 512).
A few of the essays take the form of a polemic, possibly because the authors fear for the future of the movement, now that Dorothy Day has died. One author laments that "The CWM may have already lost its unique transcendent dimension and have become irrelevant in our ‘culture of death.'" He fears that the Holy Spirit has left the movement and will now "raise up new efforts to meet the needs of the time" (O'Connor and King, 141). Another author describes what he thinks of as liberal thought in which there is no intrinsic worth to life, and where self- indulgence and self fulfillment are of the highest priority. He then contrasts this with Dorothy Day, saying that she was never a feminist (Gneuhs, 215). Here the editors deserve credit for including essays from differing points of view.
One gets the feeling from this book that in the 1930s and the middle years of the 20th century, the CW was "where it was at." It was at the cutting edge of societal issues: war, labor- union-management conflicts, church-state relationships, unemployment, theology as related to social action. Many of these issues are still relevant, especially those concerning war and pacifism. The editors have done readers a great favor by consolidating the bibliography of all the entries and have devised an index.
The book ends with a humorous personal account from Jim Forest who was a co-worker with Day: "Dorothy Day: Saint and Troublemaker." Forest reminds us that one of her favorite sayings was from Dostoevski, "Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams."