Essay, Research Paper: Catholic Worker


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It seems that to some people that they give more so society than others, but
than there is one woman, who gave her life to society to help others though
giving and sharing and helped people through a time of need. Yet there seems to
be few there is. Dorothy Day, patron of the Catholic Worker movement, was born
in Brooklyn, on New York, November 8, 1897. After surviving the San Francisco
earthquake in 1906, the Day family moved into a tenement flat in Chicago's South
Side. It was a big step down in the world made necessary because Dorothy’s
father was out of work. Day's understanding of the shame people feel when they
fail in their efforts dated from this time. It was in Chicago that Day began to
form positive impressions of Catholicism. Day recalled. when her father was
appointed sports editor of a Chicago newspaper, the Day family moved into a
comfortable house on the North Side. Here Dorothy began to read books that
affected her conscience. Upton Sinclair's novel, The Jungle, inspired Day to
take long walks in poor neighborhoods in Chicago's South Side. It was the start
of a life-long attraction to areas many people avoid. Day won a scholarship that
brought her to the University of Illinois campus at Urbana in the fall of 1914.
However, she was a reluctant scholar. Her reading was chiefly in a radical
social direction. She avoided campus social life and insisted on supporting
herself rather than living on money from her father. Dropping out of college two
years later, she moved to New York where she found a job as a reporter for The
Call, the city's only socialist daily. She covered rallies and demonstrations
and interviewed people ranging from butlers to labor organizers and
revolutionaries. She next worked for The Masses, a magazine that opposed
American involvement in the European war. In September, the Post Office
rescinded the magazine's mailing permit. Federal officers seized back issues,
manuscripts, subscriber lists and correspondence. Five editors were charged with
sedition. In November 1917 Day went to prison for being one of forty women in
front of the White House protesting women's exclusion from the electorate.
Arriving at a rural workhouse, the women were roughly handled. The women
responded with a hunger strike. Finally they were freed by presidential order.
Returning to New York, Day felt that journalism was a meager response to a world
at war. In the spring of 1918, she signed up for a nurse's training program in
Brooklyn. Her conviction that the social order was unjust changed in no
substantial way from her adolescence until her death. Her religious development
was a slower process. As a child, she attended services at an Episcopal Church.
As a young journalist in New York, she would sometimes make late night visits to
St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Sixth Avenue. The Catholic climate of worship
appealed to her. While she knew little about Catholic belief, Catholic spiritual
discipline fascinated her. She saw the Catholic Church as "the church of
the immigrants, the church of the poor." In 1922, while in Chicago working
as a reporter, she roomed with three young women who went to Mass every Sunday
and holy day and also set aside time each day for prayer. It was clear to her
that "worship, adoration, thanksgiving, supplication ... were the noblest
acts of which we are capable in this life." Her next job was with a
newspaper in New Orleans. Living near St. Louis Cathedral, Day often attended
evening Benediction services. Back in New York in 1924, Day bought a beach
cottage on Staten Island using money from the sale of movie rights for a novel.
She also began a four-year common-law marriage with Forster Batterham, an
English botanist she had met through friends in Manhattan. Batterham was an
anarchist opposed to marriage and religion. In a world of such cruelty, he found
it impossible to believe in a God. By this time Day's belief in God was
unshakable. It grieved her that Batterham didn't sense God's presence within the
natural world. "How can there be no God," she asked, "when there
are all these beautiful things?" His irritation with her "absorption
in the supernatural" would lead them to quarrel. What moved everything to a
different plane for her was pregnancy. She had been pregnant once before, years
earlier, as the result of a love affair with a journalist. This resulted in the
great tragedy for her in her life, an abortion. The affair and its awful
aftermath had been the subject of her novel, The Eleventh Virgin. The abortion,
Day concluded in the years following, had left her barren. "For a long time
I had thought I could not bear a child, and the longing in my heart for a baby
had been growing,"she confided in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness.
"My home, I felt, was not a home without one." Her pregnancy with
Batterham seemed to Day nothing less than a miracle. But Batterham didn't
believe in bringing children into such a violent world. On March 3, 1927, Tamar
Theresa Day was born. Day could think of nothing better to do with the gratitude
that overwhelmed her than arrange Tamar's baptism in the Catholic Church.
"I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered. I wanted to
believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to a Church would
give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of
the Saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic."
After Tamar's baptism, day split from Batteram permanently. On December 28, Day
was received into the Catholic Church. A day commenced in her life as she tried
to find a way to bring together her religious faith and her radical social
values. In the winter of 1932 Day traveled to Washington, DC, to report for
Commonweal and America magazines on the Hunger March. Day watched on December 8,
the Feast of the Immaculate Conception the protesters parade down the streets of
Washington carrying signs calling for jobs, unemployment insurance, old age
pensions, relief for mothers and children, health care and housing. What kept
Day in the sidelines was that she was a Catholic and Communists had organized
the march, a party at war with not only with capitalism but religion. After
witnessing the march, Day went to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where
she expressed her torment in prayer: "I offered up a special prayer, a
prayer which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to
use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor." Back in
her apartment in New York the next day, Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant
20 years her senior. Maurin, a former Christian Brother, had left France for
Canada in 1908 and later made his way to the United States. When he met Day, he
was handyman at Catholic boys' camp in upstate New York, receiving meals, use of
the chaplain's library, living space in the barn and occasional pocket money.
During his years of wandering, Maurin had come to a Franciscan attitude,
embracing poverty as a vocation. His celibate, unencumbered life offered time
for study and prayer, out of which a vision had taken form of a social order,
instilled with basic values of the Gospel "in which it would be easier for
men to be good." A born teacher, he found willing listeners, among them
George Shuster, editor of Commonweal magazine, who gave him Day's address. As
remarkable as the providence of their meeting was Day's willingness to listen.
It seemed to her he was an answer to her prayers, someone who could help her
discover what she was supposed to do. What Day should do, Maurin said, was start
a paper to publicize Catholic social teaching and promote steps to bring about
the peaceful transformation of society. Day readily embraced the idea. If family
past work experience and religious faith had prepared her for anything, it was
this. Day found that the Paulist Press was willing to print 2,500 copies of an
eight-page tabloid paper for $57. Her kitchen was the new paper's editorial
office. She decided to sell the paper for a penny a copy, "so cheap that
anyone could afford to buy it." On May 1, the first copies of The Catholic
Worker were handed out on Union Square. Few publishing ventures meet with such
immediate success. By December, 100,000 copies were being printed each month. In
The Catholic Workers, readers found a unique voice. It expressed dissatisfaction
with the social order and took the side of labor unions, but its vision of the
ideal future challenged both urbanization and industrialism. It wasn't just
radical but religious too. The paper didn't merely complain but called on its
readers to make personal responses. For the first half year The Catholic Worker
was only a newspaper. Maurin's essays in the paper were calling for renewal of
the ancient Christian practice of hospitality to those who were homeless. In
this way followers of Christ could respond to Jesus' words: "I was a
stranger and you took me in." Maurin opposed the idea that Christians
should take care only of their friends and leave care of strangers to impersonal
charitable agencies. Every home should have its "Christ Room" and
every parish a house of hospitality ready to receive the "ambassadors of
God," but as winter approached, homeless people began to knock on the door.
Surrounded by people in need and attracting volunteers excited about ideas they
discovered in The Catholic Worker, it was certain that the editors would soon be
given the chance to put their beliefs into practice. Day's apartment was the
seed of many houses of hospitality to come. By the wintertime, an apartment was
rented with space for ten women, soon after a place for men. Next came a house
in Greenwich Village. In 1936 the community moved into two buildings in
Chinatown, but no enlargement could possibly find room for all those in need.
Mainly they were men, "gray men, the color of lifeless trees and bushes and
winter soil, who had in them as yet none of the green of hope, the rising sap of
faith." Many people were surprised that, in contrast with most charitable
centers, no one at the Catholic Worker set about reforming them. A crucifix on
the wall was the only unmistakable evidence of the faith of those welcoming
them. The staff received only food, board and occasional pocket money. The
Catholic Worker became a national movement. By 1936 there were 33 Catholic
Worker houses spread across the country. Due to the Depression, plenty of people
needed them. The Catholic Worker attitude toward those who were welcomed wasn't
always appreciated. These weren't the "deserving poor," it was
sometimes objected, but drunkards and good-for-nothings. A visiting social
worker asked Day how long the "clients" were permitted to stay.
"We let them stay forever," Day answered with a fierce look in her
eye. "They live with us, they die with us, and we give them a Christian
burial. We pray for them after they are dead. Once they are taken in, they
become members of the family. Or rather they always were members of the family.
They are our brothers and sisters in Christ." Some justified their
objections with biblical quotations. Didn't Jesus say that the poor would be
with us always? " Yes," Day once replied, "but we are not content
that there should be so many of them. The class structure is our making and by
our consent, not God's, and we must do what we can to change it. We are urging
revolutionary change." The Catholic Worker also experimented with farming
communes. In 1935 a house with a garden was rented on Staten Island. Soon after
came the Mary Farm in Easton, Pennsylvania. This a property, was eventually
given up because of strife within the community. Another farm was purchased in
upstate New York near Newburgh. Called the Maryfarm Retreat House, it was
destined for a longer life. Later came the Maurin Peter Farm on Staten Island,
later moved to Tivoli and then to Marlborough, both in the Hudson Valley. Day
came to see the vocation of the Catholic Worker was not so much to found model
agricultural communities as rural houses of hospitality. Pacifism caused Day the
most trouble. A nonviolent way of life, as she saw it, was at the heart of the
Gospel. Like the early church she too seriously the command of Jesus to Maurin:
"Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword shall perish by the
sword." For many centuries the Catholic Church had accommodated itself to
war. Popes had blessed armies and preached Crusades. In the thirteenth century
St. Francis of Assisi had revived the pacifist way, but by the twentieth
century, it was unknown for Catholics to take such a position. The Catholic
Worker's first expression of pacifism, published in 1935, was a dialogue between
a patriot and Christ, the patriot dismissing Christ's teaching as a noble but
impractical doctrine. The fascist side, led by Franco, presented itself as
defender of the Catholic faith. Nearly every Catholic bishop and publication
rallied behind Franco. The Catholic Worker, refusing to support either side in
the war, lost two-thirds of its readers. Those backing Franco, Day warned early
in the war, ought to "take another look at recent events in [Nazi]
Germany." She expressed anxiety for the Jews and later was among the
founders of the Committee of Catholics to Fight Anti-Semitism. Following Japan's
attack on Pearl Harbor and America's declaration of war, Dorothy announced that
the paper would maintain its pacifist stand. "We will print the words of
Christ who is with us always," Day wrote. "Our manifesto is the Sermon
on the Mount." Opposition to the war, she added, had nothing to do with
sympathy for America's enemies. "We love our country.... We have been the
only country in the world where men and women of all nations have taken refuge
from oppression." But the means of action the Catholic Worker movement
supported were the works of mercy rather than the works of war. She urged
"our friends and associates to care for the sick and the wounded, to the
growing of food for the hungry, to the continuance of all our works of mercy in
our houses and on our farms." Not all members of Catholic Worker
communities agreed. Fifteen houses of hospitality closed in the months following
the U.S. entry into the war. But Day's view prevailed. Every issue of
TheCatholic Worker reaffirmed her understanding of the Christian life. The young
men who identified with the Catholic Worker movement during the war generally
spent much of the war years either in prison, or in rural work camps. Some did
unarmed military service as medics. One of the rituals of life for the New York
Catholic Worker community beginning in the late 1950s was the refusal to
participate in the state's annual civil defense drill. Such preparation for
attack seemed to Day part of an attempt to promote nuclear war as survivable and
winnable to justify spending billions on the military. When the sirens sounded
June 15, 1955, Day was among a small group of people sitting in front of City
Hall. "In the name of Jesus, who is God, who is Love, we will not obey this
order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. We will not be drilled into fear. We do
not have faith in God if we depend upon the Atom Bomb," a Catholic Worker
leaflet explained. Day described her civil disobedience as an act of penance for
America's use of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities. The first year the
dissidents were reprimanded. The next year Day and others were sent to jail for
five days. Arrested again the next year, the judge jailed her for thirty days.
In 1958, a different judge suspended sentence. In 1959, Day was back in prison,
but only for five days. Then came 1960, when instead of a handful of people
coming to City Hall Park, 500 turned up. The police arrested only a few; Day was
conspicuously not among those singled out. In 1961 the crowd swelled to 2,000.
These times 40 were arrested, but again Day was exempted. It proved to be the
last year of dress rehearsals for nuclear war in New York. Another Catholic
Worker stress was the civil rights movement. As usual Day wanted to visit people
who were setting an example. Therefore she went to Koinonia, a Christian
agricultural community in rural Georgia where blacks and whites lived peacefully
together. The community was under attack when Day visited in 1957. One of the
community houses had been hit by machine-gun fire and Ku Klux Klan members had
burned crosses on community land. Day insisted on taking a turn at the sentry
post. Noticing an approaching car had reduced its speed; she ducked just as a
bullet struck the steering column in front of her face. Concern with the
Church's response to war led Day to Rome during the Second Vatican Council, an
event Pope John XXIII hoped would restore "the simple and pure lines that
the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth." In 1963, Day was one 50
"Mothers for Peace" who went to Rome to thank Pope John for his
encyclical Pacem in Terris. Close to death, the pope couldn't meet them
privately, but at one of his last public audiences he blessed the pilgrims,
asking them to continue their labors. They had reason to rejoice in December
when the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World was approved by the
bishops. The Council's described as a crime against God and humanity any act of
war "directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast
areas with their inhabitants." The Council called on states to make legal
provision for conscientious objectors while describing as "criminal"
those who obey commands which condemn the innocent and defenseless. Acts of war
causing "the indiscriminate destruction of ... vast areas with their
inhabitants" were the order of the day in regions of Vietnam under intense
U.S. bombardment in 1965 and the years following. Many young Catholic Workers
went to prison for refusing to cooperate with conscription, while others did
alternative service. Nearly everyone in Catholic Worker communities took part in
protests. Many went to prison for acts of civil disobedience. Probably there has
never been a newspaper so many of whose editors have been jailed for acts of
conscience. Day herself was last jailed in 1973 for taking part in a banned
picket line in support of farmworkers. She was 75. Day lived long enough to see
her achievements honored. In 1967, when she made her last visit to Rome to take
part in the International Congress of the Laity, she was one of two Americans --
the other an astronaut -- invited to receive Communion from the hands of Pope
Paul VI. On her 75th birthday the Jesuit magazine America devoted a special
issue to her, finding in her the individual whom best exemplified the aspiration
and action of the American Catholic community during the past forty years. Notre
Dame University presented her with its Laetare Medal, thanking her for
"comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable." Among those
who came to visit her when she was no longer able to travel was Mother Theresa
of Calcutta, who had once pinned on Day's dress the cross worn only by fully
professed members of the Missionary Sisters of Charity. Long before her death
November 29, 1980, Day found herself regarded by many as a saint. No words of
hers are better known than her abrupt response, "Don't call me a saint. I
don't want to be dismissed so easily." Nonetheless, having herself
treasured the memory and witness of many saints; she is a candidate for
inclusion in the calendar of saints. The Claretians have launched an effort to
have her canonized. "If I have achieved anything in my life," she once
remarked, "it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about
God." I think that Dorothy Day is a good example of what people are capable
of doing. I was interested in this topic because of that nice couple that came
to class. I was really interested in what they had to say. It is amazing how
people can commit their life to God and his will of charitable services to those
in need. I find their devotion to there vocation most inspiring. I only hope
that I too will find my calling in life, and pursue it with as much vigor.
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