New Yorker Dorothy Day Takes Another Step Toward Sainthood

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


"Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily."

That's what Dorothy Day, founder of The Catholic Worker newspaper and social justice movement, famously said about herself before her death at age 83 in 1980. Yet a big step was recently taken toward that end when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed her cause after Cardinal Dolan of New York called her "a saint for our time." Dolan said Day deserved the honor for having outgrown her wild youth to devote herself to serving the poor for 50 years.

The issue of her sainthood is controversial among both her supporters and detractors.

Some Catholic Workers worry that sainthood would dilute her message and overly emphasize how she reformed her life after having an abortion. After all, that's the part of Day's story that the cardinal, and many of his fellow bishops, prefers to emphasize. Catholic conservatives also endorse Day's embrace of traditional Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and an all-male priesthood.

Liberal Catholics prefer stories about how, during New York City's first nuclear air raid drill in 1957, Day and other pacifists gathered in Union Square Park to protest what they felt was an absurdity: hiding in a basement to survive an atom bomb. Not for the first time, she was arrested.

The pope has already named Day a ''Servant of God.'' If the Vatican can certify to its satisfaction that she lived an exemplary life of faith and was the cause of two miracles, she would then be beatified. That process can take decades.

Until then, the arguments will continue about the meaning of her "don't call me a saint" quote. Some take her sentiment literally. Others say her point was to emphasize that anyone, not just a saint, could do what she did. She contended that it falls to all of us to delve into what she called the mystery of poverty. "By sharing in it, by making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love," she said. 

By some estimates, there are over 10,000 Catholic saints. America has twelve saints; remarkably, seven of them are New Yorkers.


Jim O'Grady is a WNYC reporter and the author of Dorothy Day: With Love for the Poor, a biography.


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Comments [8]

Apostle from NY

It's such a wonderful thing to be discussing a Saint in modern times. It seems that Saints nowadays a very few and far between. Whether Dorothy Day will be Beautified is something else entirely, but we have a definite need of Saints in this day and age.


Dec. 14 2012 02:35 PM
Phil Runkel from Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

The first air raid drill protest was in 1955 at City Hall Park. Dorothy Day spent 45 days in jail for her non-participation in the drills. See

Nov. 28 2012 02:54 PM
tom LI

It saddens me that people still believe in magic.

Calling someone a Saint for being brave, charitable, compassionate, encouraging, etc is all well and good. Just not the magic part.

Nov. 28 2012 12:44 PM
clive betters

a corrupt and vulgar jerk like dolan,determining who's a saint?

convoluted universe....

Nov. 28 2012 11:25 AM
Phyllis from Park Slope

If Jim is interested, Jacques Travers was a dear friend who established two Houses of Hospitality in Brooklyn. I have many recollections, starting in about 1965, of what they were like...and some images as well.

Nov. 28 2012 09:50 AM
VMGillen from Staten Island

Dorothy Day lived in Spanish Camp, on Staten Island, on the water... an area that illustrates the forces of capitalism at work with little or no restraint. Her bungalow was under review for landmarking, and that was an inconvenience to the developer, so he demolished it. Huge multi-million dollar mansions were built. Much money was made... A park was promised,but has yet to be built; rumour has it the Parks Dep't can't afford to operate another park, so it may never open. Our State Dept of Environmental conservation has stood by while these natural areas were paved over and landscaped, while Dorothy Day's friends and neighbors, lacking the big bucks, are fined for decks. One wonders what she would say about this? Probably something unpreintable.

Nov. 28 2012 07:58 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Also, once a person is declared Blessed or is Canonized, they are assigned a day in the local or universal calendar. Recently Blessed Pope John Paul II was assigned October 22nd (I think), the first day of his pontificate.

Nov. 28 2012 07:58 AM
Ed from Larchmont

When Dorothy Day said 'I don't want to be a saint because I don't want to be dismissed so easily', she wasn't saying she didn't want or not want the Church to declare her a saint, she was saying she didn't want to be dismissed, which happens to saints. They're not listened to.

Some notes about the beatification process.

It used to be that the investigation could only start 50 years after the death of the person. Now it's only five years, and the Holy Father waived that to two years in the causes of Pope John Paul II and of Mother Teresa. Dorothy Day's cause can be begun since she died in 1983 (exact date?).

The Vatican investigates to see if the person proposed has lived a life of not only consistent virtue, but heroic virtue. If they pass this examination, they receive the title venerable.

Then the Church waits. If a miracle that occurred after the person's death can be found (in the case of John Paul II, a nun was cured of Parkinson's after her community prayed to him for her over months), it is investigated. If no other explanation can be found, it can be declared miraculous and then the person is declared blessed. It shows that it's God's will that the person be beatified (made blessed). The miracle can't be 'keeping the Catholic Worker going', it has to be a healing of a medical ailment where there is no medical explanation. For example, there is a miracle for the cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen being investigated where a child in his home town, still-born, woke up after his parents had prayed for months to Archbishop Fulton Sheen for their child.

After the person is beatified, the Church waits. If a second post-beatification miracle appears, and survives careful investigation, this miracle allows the person to be canonized (made a saint). It used to require two post-beatification miracles. Then the person is a saint.

Once a person is venerable a blessed or a saint the person's life can be used as an example to emulate. Once the person is a blessed or a saint, we can officially pray to the person for intercession. We no longer pray for the person, but to the person for intercession.

The beatification or canonization does say that their life should be emulated, but it also says that this person after death has been judged by God to enter heaven. They are in heaven or on their way, so we can pray to them for help.

I was surprised that someone who wrote a book on Dorothy Day wouldn't know more about the canonization process.

Nov. 28 2012 06:04 AM

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