FOREST, All is Grace, a biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011. pp. 344. $27.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-921-5.
Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141

On the day after the hundredth anniversary of Dorothy Day’s birth, Cardinal O’Connor of New York included in his homily a quotation from the final paragraphs of her book on St. Therese of Lisieux. “So many books have been written about Saint Therese, books of all kinds, too, so why, I ask myself again, have I written one more?” (308). lists fifteen texts along with this newest book on Dorothy Day. Does anyone really need one more? Forest’s revised text Love is the Measure had its sixth printing in 2000. Why, one more?

Scanning chapter titles the reader should avoid jumping to the conclusion that some identical chapter titles shared by the two books mean identical content. All Is Grace offers some fresh material. Beyond the new material on the cause for canonization, Forest weaves together material from all of the classic texts and incorporates rich insight from the more recently released writings from Day’s diaries, The Duty of Delight. The reader gains fresh insight into the complexity of character exhibited by this revolutionary woman.

While noting the more sensational story of her ongoing love for Forster Batterham, the author helps the reader appreciate some of the profound questions with which Dorothy lived as well as some of the “difficult” aspects of her personality. He includes material from a letter to a friend in which Day expresses remorse “for having pushed him (Forster) away in the course of her conversion” (288). Forest writes of Peter Maurin’s disappointment because of Day’s dominant voice and control over The Catholic Worker. Dorothy struggled during the 1960’s as many in the movement set aside Catholic identity. Forest writes how she had a “sense of inadequacy both as a mother and leader of a movement… She found herself too impatient, too judgmental, too distant, too severe” (171).

Along these same lines the author accurately portrays a revolutionary woman with a sometimes very traditional faith. Daily Mass, the Rosary, reading the lives of the Saints and contemplative prayer shaped her spirituality. The conviction of her conversion kept her within the Catholic Church though she was often misunderstood by that church. The reader can get a real sense of this as Forest details Day’s criticism of Cardinal Spellman during the grave-diggers strike in the Archdiocese of New York. The author observes that Day “would put obedience to her bishop above continuation of her newspaper” (190). However, when challenged by the Archdiocese, she did not offer immediate compliance. She pondered changing the name of the newspaper, and then sought to persuade the Archdiocese, by way of a letter, and appealed for dialogue. The matter seemed to be quietly dropped by the Archdiocese, and one finds no change in the content of the paper. The same commitment to dialogue and non-violent resistance causes Day to be troubled by the destruction of Draft Board property, a point others found puzzling given the violence of war and the movement’s protest against United States involvement in Vietnam. Forest gives us the complexity of the woman.

When one thinks of important influences of Dorothy Day, one immediately calls to mind Maurin, Maritain, Chavez, and Dostoyevsky. Forest adds to the list the important role of Pope John XXIII and the Cuban Missile Crisis. He likewise highlights Day’s appreciation of the Jewish author Chaim Potok whom she notes was “filled with a sense of the sacramentality of life” (284). While the author does not make an explicit connection, the sacramentality expressed in Potok’s works was known to Day in her lifelong appreciation of beauty. The same sacramentality found expression in her relationship with Forster as she later writes, “It was because through a whole love, both physical and spiritual, I came to know God” (73).

Finally, this text provides another rich addition to the others. The words of the text come alive with the photographs and drawings that grace most every page. To this the author adds in the columns longer quotations of excerpts or additional material related to the topic at hand.

So, is there need for this, one more, text on Dorothy Day? Yes! At Dorothy Day’s funeral reporters asked Dan Berrigan what had impressed him most about her. He replied, “She lived as thought the truth were actually true” (302). This text presents the truth of her life with some real fresh air. Though one might be tempted to think this is just one more, the text actually mirrors some of Dorothy’s words about her beloved Saint Therese – “What was there about her to make such an appeal?... In her lifetime there are no miracles recounted, she was just good…” (309). All Is Grace is “just good” and therefore needed.

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