Dorothy Day: the Fierce Catholic Worker

Mary Clare A, Columnist

Hundreds of people live under poverty’s palm, unable to escape the tyrannical force’s tight grasp. Impoverished neighborhoods’ citizens often do not have food on their plates or a safe house. Dorothy Day, too, suffered under destituation as a child and young adult. Later in her life, however, Dorothy created various means to rescue victims of poverty.

According to Casey Cep, a writer for The New Yorker, Dorothy was born in 1897 in New York. As a teenager, she and her family of seven moved to Chicago. When she reached adulthood, Day moved to New York City, where she soon dropped out of college to pursue her dreams of fighting for civil rights. 

In her young adulthood, Dorothy began her work focusing on women’s rights, but after a conversion of heart, she dedicated her life to assisting poverty-stricken communities. After she bore a baby girl and was left by her partner, Dorothy crossed paths with a nun and inquired about Roman Catholicism. Soon, she became Roman Catholic, acknowledging her sinful past and embracing the gifts of repentance and grace.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Day was concerned for the poor people of the US, remembering her povertous childhood. She and Peter Maurin, a fellow Catholic, thinker, and writer, felt called to start a Christian newspaper to serve the poor. In 1933, the first issue of The Catholic Worker was published for the price of a penny. The articles focused on connecting politics, social justice issues, and the world with Christianity. Although The Catholic Worker earned them little money, Day and Maurin continued to publish, relying on the few small donations received. Occasionally, if they had extra money, profits from The Catholic Worker would rent an apartment for a homeless family. 

In the cold winter of 1934, Day and Maurin founded the first of their hospitality houses in a four-storied, eleven-bedroomed building. There, they, the self-proclaimed Catholic Workers, offered the drunk, homeless, oppressed, mentally unstable, unemployed, and rejected a temporary or permanent home. Within a few years, over thirty-two hospitality houses were scattered across America. 

Along with working for social justice, Dorothy wrote various books, such as The Long Loneliness and The Reckless Way of Love, over the course of her lifetime. Many of her letters and journals were published after her death as well. 

As a high-spirited pacifist and social justice activist, Dorothy Day’s teachings were not always accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. However, she stayed loyal to her beliefs and Christianity, publicly speaking against war, racism, unemployment, abortion, and inhumane treatment to those with disabilities. Today, many Roman Catholics want to see Day canonized as a Saint, but others believe that because of her sinful young-adulthood and expressive opinions, canonization would be offensive and wrong.

Despite the controversy she may have stirred, Dorothy Day did her best to allow Christ to take over her life. For almost all of her adulthood, Day worked for humane justice, employed people, and peace. Hospitality houses and Catholic Worker communities “remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms,” according to the Oakland Catholic Worker. Even though she died in 1980, Dorothy’s hospitality houses, influence, and teachings are still present and thriving in America today. 


Cep, Casey. “Dorothy Day’s Radical Faith.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 6 April 2020,

“What is the Catholic Worker Movement?” Oakland Catholic Worker, Oakland Catholic Worker, n.d.,


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