It can be easy to forget, for those of us who are at least middle-aged, that Dorothy Day was a contemporary. She is so legendary — and was so for many years before she died — that we lose sight of the fact that she was with us until 1980.
Editor Robert Ellsberg knew Dorothy Day personally, and credits her with transforming his life. Ellsberg, in return, has dedicated much of his life to furthering Day’s reputation, both as writer and editor of her writings. He also serves on the commission appointed by the Archdiocese of New York to prepare her cause for canonization for Rome, despite Day’s apparent wishes. (She famously said, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”)
This is a collection of Dorothy Day’s very lively, sometimes controversial, columns in The Catholic Worker newspaper from the 1960s. Ellsberg provides helpful introductory notes, giving them context, and occasional explanatory footnotes, most often with biographical details of people mentioned by Day who would have been known at the time or writing, but who are, decades later, often forgotten.
The tone of these reflections is personal and passionate. The topics raised are often issues of concern to Day, for instance, inadequate concern and care for the poor; recent events, including the Second Vatican Council, in the Catholic Church; habits of prayer and changes in prayer practices among Catholics; the war and atrocities in Vietnam; the anti-war effort in the United States; organizing and activism; and brief teachings of those who taught her, ranging from Peter Maurin, with whom Dorothy cofounded The Catholic Worker movement in 1933, to St. Anthony of the Desert.
There are also vivid accounts of pilgrimages taken to Cuba, Rome, and Assisi, and to places closer to home such as Vermont and then California, where she defended the cause of underpaid and exploited farmworkers. She viewed all of life as a kind of pilgrimage.
As Ellsberg explains in his introduction: “It will be clear to anyone reading these columns today that Dorothy’s response to the world was not simply a matter of protest. Peter Maurin had always insisted that the Catholic Worker should not just denounce things as they are, but announce a better world founded on love, solidarity, and community. And so in Dorothy’s columns, along with accounts of injustice and sorrow, there were also stories about people who were trying to care for their neighbors, to reject violence, and to live by different, life-affirming values.”