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The Legacy of A Saint For Our Time: Dorothy Day 40 Years Later

“The most important, interesting, and  influential figure in the history of American Catholicism.” – David O’Brien

By George Horton and Mary Kate Skehan

Dorothy Day famously said, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” But now, 40 years after her death, many Catholics pray that we will soon call her St. Dorothy--not to dismiss her, but rather to honor her profound and lasting legacy in the American Catholic Church.

Day, a native Brooklynite who spent her young adulthood as a writer and activist, experienced an astounding conversion from atheism to Catholicism in 1927, when she was 30 years old. Day’s conversion gave new meaning to her quest for social justice, which she now recognized as the fulfillment of Christ’s message in the Sermon on the Mount. Along with Peter Maurin, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933. The newspaper launched a movement that grew to comprise soup kitchens, group homes called “houses of hospitality,” and farming communities all over the world.

Though Day attained international prominence for her social justice and anti-war activism, she lived simply among the poor she served. She died in one of her houses of hospitality on November 29, 1980.

In 2005, the Dorothy Day Guild was founded to share Day’s witness and advance her cause for sainthood. (Appropriately to Day’s legacy, the Guild is housed in Catholic Charities’ Office of Social and Community Development.) In 2012, the USCCB enthusiastically endorsed her cause for sainthood, and in 2015, Pope Francis placed her aside Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Thomas Merton, declaring before Congress: ‘[Day’s] social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”

Now, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Day’s death, we look forward to celebrating her living legacy in a special virtual conversation with David Brooks, The New York Times;  Anne Snyder, Comment Magazine; and Paul Elie, Senior Fellow, Georgetown University; on Sunday, November 29, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM, ET, convened by the editor of Day’s letters and diaries, Robert Ellsberg. To learn more and to register (free) for the virtual event, please visit The Dorothy Day Guild’s website.