Among the four Americans that Pope Francis singled out for praise on Thursday was Catholic activist Dorothy Day, often embraced as a favorite of the left for aiding the poor, walking a picket line with labor activist Cesar Chavez and opposing war.
The pontiff invoked Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement, for her long devotion to social justice, saying her “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.”
Pope Francis said that considerable progress has been made in many parts of the world to lift people out of extreme poverty, but added, “I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost.”
He urged Congress to “keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.”
The New York-born Day was a Catholic convert with a tumultuous past who emerged as a champion of the poor. She was arrested on occasion for protests against the war and went on a hunger strike after being jailed for protesting in front of the White House in 1917 as part of an effort to get women the right to vote. She and Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933. The Catholic News Agency says that “living the Catholic notion of holy poverty and practicing works of mercy, the two started soup kitchens, self-sustaining farm communities and a daily newspaper. In the course of her 50 years working among the poor and marginalized, Day never took a salary.” She died on Nov. 29, 1980 in New York City at Maryhouse -- one of the Catholic settlement houses that she helped establish.
New York Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has called for her canonization.
“When she sometimes challenged the Church, it was usually because she felt it had departed from Gospel principles, particularly when it came to the forgiveness of one’s enemies,” the Dorothy Day Guild says. “Labels of left or right, temptingly applied by liberals and conservatives alike, fail to explain or contain Dorothy Day. Perhaps, ultimately, that’s why this woman of conscience is a saint for our time.”