I slipped quietly into my meeting this week, ashamed that I was a few minutes late. Our university's president was reading a passage about a woman, desperate for her lover's approval.
"All the while she lavished love without shame on a partner who made little use of it. But no matter: there was more where that came from, a passion that grew in amplitude and influence far beyond just one dead-end romance. Sainthood and the single woman. Sanctity without incredulity. Sexual love without regret. That’s the totally ordinary, amazing thing about Dorothy Day."
It was not our usual meeting fare.
I glanced down at the photocopied article in front of me, and realized he was reading from a NY Times editorial piece by Lawrence Downes, "The Passion of Dorothy Day."
One of the great things about being a newbie in a job is learning an institution's stories. The story of Dorothy Day is indeed one of those stories that I thought I knew, but clearly not. Dorothy Day to me was a strong Catholic woman who worked tirelessly to improve conditions for the working poor. She was a woman whose deeds were great enough to have a mission center on campus named after her; a woman who is under consideration for sainthood.
Of course, her real story was far more complex.
This synopsis is from a film about her that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, called Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me A Saint
Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me A Saint tells the story of the New York writer and Catholic anarchist who at the height of the Depression unwittingly created what would become a worldwide peace and social justice movement. The Catholic Worker persists to this day in over 180 houses of hospitality and soup kitchens across the United States, in Europe, Australia, Canada and Mexico. Their tenet is based on doing works of mercy and living in voluntary poverty with no attachments to Church or State. And although the Vatican is currently considering Dorothy Day for canonization, she is no ordinary saint.
Caught up in the Bohemian whirl of 1917 Greenwich Village, Dorothy wrote for radical papers, associated with known Communists, attempted suicide and had an illegal abortion, a doomed common-law marriage and a child out of wedlock. The birth of her only child led to her religious conversion.
The film takes us through Dorothy's protests of the 1950's air-raid drills, her last arrest in 1973 with the United Farm Workers and to her death on November 29, 1980 at the home she founded for homeless women on New York’s Bowery.
Interviews with Dorothy, her daughter, and close intimates coupled with never-before-seen family photographs, personal writings and powerful archival footage paint a dramatic picture of Dorothy’s most difficult journey to create and live out a vision of a more just world.
Her story serves as a great reminder that people don't need to be perfect to do good things.