Dorothy Day’s Cross


For a more Christian view of life, the best books I have run across are In Defense of Purityby Dietrich von Hildebrand … the Encyclical on Christian marriage by Pope Pius XI, and the Nuptial Mass in the Missal. – Dorothy Day

[Editor’s note: the following is a composite of autobiographical vignettes written by Dorothy Day.]

I hobbled down the darkened stairwell of the Upper East Side flat in New York City. My steps were unsteady. My left arm held the banister tightly. My right arm clutched my abdomen. It was burning in pain. I walked out onto the street alone in the dark. It was in September of 1919. I was twenty-one years old and I had just aborted my baby.

Lionel, my boyfriend, promised to pick me up at the flat after it was all over. I waited in pain from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. but he never came. When I got home to his apartment I found only a note. He said he had left for a new job and, regarding my abortion, that I was only one of God knows how many millions of women who go through the same thing. Don’t build up any hopes. It is best, in fact, that you forget me.

I wrote about this experience in my autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin. In my youth, I had thought that the greatest gift that life could offer would be a faith in God and a hereafter. But then there were too many people passing through my life, — too many activities — too much pleasure (not happiness). The life of the flesh called to me as a good and wholesome life, regardless of God’s laws. What was good and what was evil? It is easy enough to stifle conscience for a time. The satisfied flesh has its own law. How much time I wasted during those years! I had fallen a long way from my youthful ideals. When I was fifteen I wrote, “I am working always, always on guard, praying without ceasing to overcome all physical sensations and be purely spiritual.”

But these “physical sensations” allured me. I lived a social-activist Bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village, New York City. I think back and remember myself, hurrying along from party to party, and all the friends, and the drinking, and the talk, and the crushes, and falling in love. I fell in love with a newspaperman named Lionel Moise. I got pregnant. He said that if I had the baby, he would leave me. I wanted the baby but I wanted Lionel more. So, I had the abortion and I lost them both.

In 1924, I started a “live-in” relationship with Forster Batterham, an atheist and an anarchist. He believed in nothing except personal freedom to do as you please. We took up residence in a beach bungalow on Staten Island, New York. We foreshadowed the hippies of the sixties and lived a carefree lifestyle living off the land and sea — gardening, fishing and claming. I thought that we would be contributing to the misery of the world if we failed to rejoice in the sun, the moon, and the stars, in the rivers which surrounded the island on which we lived and in the cool breezes of the bay. Like Dostoevsky, I began to believe that the world would be saved by beauty. It was this beautiful, natural world that slowly led me back to God. “How can there be no God,” I asked Forster, “when there are all these beautiful things?”

However, I felt that my home was not a home without a child. For a long time, I had thought that I could not have a child. No matter how much one is loved or one loves, that love is lonely without a child. It is incomplete. Soon I became pregnant again. I saw this as a miracle from God because I thought that He had left me barren after the abortion. I wrote in a letter to a friend, I always rather expected an ugly grotesque thing which only I could love; expecting perhaps to see my sins in the child.

On the contrary, I gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Tamar Teresa, on March 4, 1926. I remembered that the labor pains swept over me like waves in the beautiful rhythm of the sea. When I became bored and impatient with the steady restlessness of those waves of pain, I thought of all the other and more futile kinds of pain I would rather not have had. Toothaches, earaches, and broken arms. I had had them all. And this was a much more satisfactory and accomplishing pain, I comforted myself.

The waves of pain became tidal waves. Earthquake and fire swept my body. Through the rush and roar of the cataclysm that was all about me, I heard the murmur of the doctor and the answered murmur of the nurse at my head. In a white blaze of thankfulness, I heard faint about the clamor in my ears, a peculiar squawk. They handed my baby to me. I placed her on my full breast where she mouthed around, too lazy to tug for food. I thought, what do you want, little bird? That it should run into your mouth, I suppose. But no, you must work for your provender already!

No matter how cynically or casually the worldly may treat the birth of a child, it remains spiritually and physically a tremendous event. God pity the woman who does not feel the fear, the awe, and the joy of bringing a child into the world.

I was filled with awe of my baby’s new life and in gratitude to God I wanted her to be baptized 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 the 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. This was the final straw for Forster who wanted nothing to do with any commitments or what he termed as my “absorption in the supernatural”.

I knew that I was going to have my child baptized a Catholic, cost what it may. I knew I was not going to have her floundering as I had done, doubting and hesitating, undisciplined and amoral. I felt it was the greatest thing I could do for my child.

So, Tamar was baptized in June. For myself, I prayed for the gift of faith. I was sure, yet not sure. I postponed the day of decision. To become a Catholic meant for me to give up a mate with whom I was much in love. It got to the point where it was the simple question of whether I chose God or man. I chose God and I lost Forster. I was baptized on the Feast of The Holy Innocents, December 28, 1927. It was something I had to do. I was tired of following the devices and desires of my own heart, of doing what I wanted to do, what my desires told me to do, which always seemed to lead me astray. The cost was the loss of the man I loved, but it paid for the salvation of my child and myself.

I always had a great regret for my abortion. In fact, I tried to cover it up and to destroy as many copies of The Eleventh Virgin as I could find. But my priest chided me and said, “You can’t have much faith in God if you’re taking the life given to you and using it that way. God is the one who forgives us if we ask, and it sounds like you don’t even want forgiveness — just to get rid of the books.” I never forgot what the priest pointed out — the vanity or pride at work in my heart. Since that time, I wasn’t as worried as I had been. If you believe in the mission of Jesus Christ, then you’re bound to try to let go of your past, in the sense that you are entitled to His forgiveness. To keep regretting what was, is to deny God’s grace.

After my conversion, I struggled to support my child as a single parent working as a free-lance writer. In December 1932, I was in Washington D.C. covering the Hunger March of the Unemployed. Watching the ragged men marching moved my sense of social justice and I was inspired to go to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to pray. I cried out to God in anguish that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor.

When I returned to New York, I found waiting for me an unkempt man with fire in his eyes. Immediately he began preaching to me in a thick French accent his grand vision for social justice. His name was Peter Maurin and together we founded the Catholic Worker Movement. We opened houses of hospitality for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and for abused women and pregnant mothers. We practiced the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

I’ll never forget the time that I had to literally stand up against birth control. My sister Della had worked for Margaret Sanger, foundress of Planned Parenthood. When Della exhorted me that I shouldn’t encourage my daughter Tamar to have so many children, I stood up firmly and walked out of the house whereupon Della ran after me weeping, saying, don’t leave me, don’t leave me. We just won’t talk about it again.

To me, birth control and abortion are genocide. I say, make room for children, don’t do away with them. I learned that prevention of conception when the act that one is performing is for the purpose of fusing the two lives more closely and so enrich them that another life springs forth, and the aborting of a life conceived are sins that are great frustrations in the natural and spiritual order.

The Sexual Revolution is a complete rebellion against authority, natural and supernatural, even against the body and its needs, its natural functions of child bearing. This is not reverence for life, it is a great denial and more resembles Nihilism than the revolution that they think they are furthering.



The ABC of Catholic Economics

Some food for thought and with thanks to Regina Magazine –


        is for Agrarianism, which is at the heart of Catholic economics. The idea that families and small towns or villages can solve most problems without interference from national governments is integral to all Catholic social doctrine.


is for Belloc, Hillaire, the co-creator, with G.K Chesterton, of the formal term for Catholic economics, Distributism. As a working term, Distributism was considered more descriptive than anything else, and the two were essentially unsatisfied with it. Lacking any suitable alternative, however, they spent the better part of two decades explaining its practical application, and updating its doctrines as new papal teachings were introduced.


is for Chesterton, G.K. Belloc’s dear friend and one of the most brilliant English-language authors of all time.  Chesterton was a journalist, a poet, a novelist, and a fierce debater, challenging the enemies of Christianity wherever he found them; his most famous debates were against American atheist Clarence Darrow, Anglo-Irish socialist George Bernard Shaw, and English science fiction great Herbert George Wells.


 is for Day, Dorothy, the most famous American champion of Distributism. Day, a faithfully orthodox Catholic despite her reputation as a maverick, founded the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper to spread the ideals of blessed Franciscan poverty, the dignity of labor, and charity.


 is for Economics, Catholic. The Popes, seeing the need to address the dangers of modernism and its attendant pathologies liberalism and socialism, formalized the Church’s teachings on economics and the relations between workers and employers in a series of encyclicals beginning in 1891 and continuing through to the present day.


 is for Family, the basic social unit of the Catholic economic system. The traditional family living self-sufficiently on the land is the ideal promoted by Distributism; it is based on the example of the Holy Family.


is for Guild, the traditional way of organizing workers and employers in an harmonious, mutually supportive system. The Medieval guilds worked to care for their members, create self-sustaining economic systems, and give even the poorest members a voice in municipal government.


is for Home, the well-kept, safe, and holy environment for the educating and nurturing of children. If Distributism is the economic system of saints, then the home is where those saints are made.


is for Idolatry, the worship of that other than God. The idols of liberalism are false freedom and the omnipotent invisible hand of the market. The idols of socialism are the State and false progress. Both worship the great evil of untruth that the Church stands against.


 is for Justice, Social, the phrase coined by Pope Leo XIII in the Nineteenth century. True social justice lies in peaceful class relations, natural law, and hierarchy.


 is for Maurin, Peter, who was Dorothy Day’s mentor and the co-founder of the Catholic Worker.  Maurin was a living example of blessed Franciscan poverty, having once slept in an abandoned coke oven while preaching and working as a miner. Maurin’s radical street preaching constantly stressed the need to live simpler, self-sufficient lives on the land.


 is for New Deal, the massive expansion of the State ushered in by President Franklin Roosevelt and emblematic of the Welfare-Warfare State of the Modern Age. Distributists, including Dorothy Day, fiercely opposed this unprecedented government expansion. Peter Maurin criticized State-based welfare (as opposed to personal charity) as merely “passing the buck,” and most un-Christian.


 is for Obedience. The Church teaches us that there are two forms of law, divine and man-made. We, as Catholics, are obliged to obey the laws of God as we know them (natural law). As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us, “An unjust law (one not in accord with natural law) is no law at all.”


 is for Pius XI, the pope of the Inter-War years (1922 – 1939). A great and gifted champion of the Church and humanity, Pius condemned racism and nationalism (Mit brennender Sorge), created the Feast of Christ the King to remind Christians that their first loyalty is to Christ not any earthly sovereign, and expanded Leo XIII’s teachings on politics and economics.


 is for Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI’s encyclical issue in 1931 confirming the teachings of Rerum Novarum and expanding them in great detail, praising workers’ co-operatives and family businesses, while condemning socialism and unrestrained capitalism.


 is for Rerum Novarum, the encyclical issued on May 15, 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. Rerum sought to address the shocking injustices of modernity by condemning usury, finance capitalism, and socialism. Rerum emphasized the dignity of labor and the rights and responsibilities of workers.


 is for Sheen, Fulton, the man known to so many as “America’s Bishop.” Archbishop Sheen inspired many to convert to the Catholic faith, and provided decades of books and lectures on the evils of atheism, socialism, and usury.


 is for Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R. Tolkien), the famed author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Although Tolkien never understood his works to be allegories of the Gospels, nevertheless his close friendship with C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and other Distributist authors inspired Tolkien’s vision of the ideal Distributist community: the Shire.


 is for Unity, a key teaching of the Church. For there to be peace, there must exist a state of harmony and shared purpose between clans, classes, and communities. The family (the clan) is the first and most important of these, then the economic groups (the classes), and then the political organization (the communities).


is for Violence, condemned by the Church and the Distributists under all but the most exacting circumstances (Just War). Violence is endemic to the State, especially the modern total war State, which is, in part, why many of the Distributists preferred monarchy or anarchy as the best form of government.


 is for Worker, Catholic, the movement and newspaper founded on Distributist principles by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933.


is for Xavier, Francis. Although known more as a gifted missionary, Saint Francis Xavier was also a brilliant organizer of fledgling Christian communities, and a missionary who understood the importance of local clergy and leaders providing for both the physical and spiritual needs of their flock.


is for Young Men’s Institute, an example of the kind of fraternal benefit organizations that were once common amongst Catholic communities. Distributism views such organizations as key to community stability and family security.


 is for Zita’s Home for Friendless Women, a shelter for women rejected by society. Mother Zita (Emily O’Keefe, an Irish immigrant to New York) founded the home and insisted that a Sister sleep by the door so that women seeking shelter could be admitted at any hour of the day or night.  The last of their nuns and some former residents now live in St. Zita’s Villa, a home for elderly women, in Monsey, N.Y

Mark Zwick R I P

We were sorry to hear the sad news of the death of Mark Zwick of the Casa Juan Diego in Houston, Texas. In the early days of the CVM when we were getting attacked on various fronts, he wrote in our favour for which we were very grateful.



Here are some excerpts of his obituary from the Casa Juan Diego website —

Mark Zwick, who 36 years ago turned a tumble-down building on Washington Avenue into a thriving international refuge for immigrants and refugees, died Friday at his home in Houston after battling Parkinson’s Disease. He was 88.

In 1980, Mark and his wife Louise founded Casa Juan Diego, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality where thousands of refugees escaping to Houston during the civil wars in Central America found safe harbour.

In later years, Casa Juan Diego would expand to include ten buildings and become a beacon for immigrants fleeing violence and poverty everywhere. Its name became famous along the foot-beaten corridors that lead to the Texas-Mexico border.

Inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, the methods of the Catholic saints, and Catholic Worker founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Casa Juan Diego offered food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and uncommon kindness to migrants with no place to go and few places to get help.

Over the years, more than 100,000 undocumented men, women, and children spent at least one night at Casa Juan Diego. The centre continues to offer hospitality and medical care, and provides free food to around 500 families each week.

After discovering the lack of resources for sick and injured immigrants, Mark also began offering financial support and coordinating personal care services for incapacitated men and women ineligible for social security disability benefits or worker’s comp. Today hospitals, schools, and police departments routinely refer immigrants to Casa Juan Diego for life-saving care.

Mark spent the last 35 years of his life practising the daily works of mercy at Casa Juan Diego. He welcomed immigrant guests and distributed food and clothing to the poor. He listened to the needs, joys, and tragedies of the sick and injured, the paralyzed, the battered, the pregnant, and the homeless in a strange land and found ways to help each one.

His gentle demeanour, wisdom, sense of humour, and generosity endeared him to the immigrant community. By many he was affectionately known as “Don Marcos.”




Can anyone help urgently in Brighton

We saw this message about a homeless man in Brighton. Can anyone help –

Just met a man in Brighton who lives on the streets. Living with terminal cancer – on the streets. He’s been given 12-18 months to live by his specialist. On the streets.

The local authority won’t provide any accommodation assistance to him in terms of accommodation because he doesn’t have a ‘local connection’.

He can no longer swallow food properly, it comes back up, so he’s on vitamin drinks he gets from the doctor. He’s having great difficulty even getting words out of his mouth when people ask him if he wants anything to eat. He’s a Catholic, pray for him. If you’re making the St Jude Novena, include his cause and his plight in your prayers.

His response to the question: ‘What is a man living with terminal cancer doing on the streets in Brighton?’ was “That’s Brighton and Hove City Council for you.”

Pray for a miracle, even if that miracle turns out to be shelter and proper assistance as it gets colder.

Victorian Britain has returned, but then, did it ever really leave?


Dorothy Day on Doing the Works of Mercy


 The spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.

The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbour the harbourless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.

When Peter Maurin talked about the necessity of practising the works of mercy, he meant all of them. He envisioned houses of hospitality in poor parishes in every city of the country, where these precepts of our Lord could be put into effect. He pointed out that we have turned to the state through home relief, social legislation, and social security, that we no longer practice personal responsibility, but are repeating the words of the first murderer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The works of mercy are a wonderful stimulus to our growth in faith as well as love. Our faith is taxed to the utmost and so grows through this strain put upon it. It is pruned again and again, and springs up bearing much fruit. For anyone starting to live literally the words of the fathers of the church – “The bread you retain belongs to the hungry, the dress you lock up is the property of the naked”; “What is superfluous for one’s need is to be regarded as plunder if one retains it for one’s self” – there is always a trial ahead. “Our faith, more precious than gold, must be tried as though by fire.”

We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as our Lord himself was who died for such a one as this.

Here is a letter we received today: “I took a gentleman seemingly in need of spiritual and temporal guidance into my home on a Sunday afternoon. I let him have a nap on my bed, went through the want ads with him, made coffee and sandwiches for him, and when he left, I found my wallet had gone also.”

I can only say that the saints would only bow their heads, and not try to understand or judge. … These things happened for our testing. We are sowing the seed of love, and we are not living in the harvest time. We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as our Lord himself was who died for such a one as this. We lay down our lives, too, when we have performed so painfully thankless acts, for our correspondent is poor in this world’s goods. It is agony to go through such bitter experiences, because we all want to love, we desire with a great longing to love our fellow human beings, and our hearts are often crushed at such rejections. But, as a Carmelite nun said to me last week, “It is the crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart.”

St. Francis was “the little poor man” and none was more joyful than he; yet Francis began with tears, with fear and trembling, hiding in a cave from his irate father. He had expropriated some of his father’s goods (which he considered his rightful inheritance) in order to repair a church and rectory where he meant to live. It was only later that he came to love Lady Poverty. He took it little by little; it seemed to grow on him. Perhaps kissing the leper was the great step that freed him not only from fastidiousness and a fear of disease but from attachment to worldly goods as well.

Sometimes it takes but one step. We would like to think it is always so. And yet the older I get, the more I see that life is made up of many steps, and they are very small affairs, not giant strides. I have “kissed a leper,” not once but twice – consciously – and I cannot say I am much the better for it.

The first time was early one morning on the steps of Precious Blood Church. A woman with cancer of the face was begging (beggars are allowed only in the slums) and when I gave her money (no sacrifice on my part but merely passing on alms which someone had given me) she tried to kiss my hand. The only thing I could do was kiss her dirty old face with the gaping hole in it where an eye and a nose had been. It sounds like a heroic deed but it was not. One gets used to ugliness so quickly. What we avert our eyes from one day is easily borne the next when we have learned a little more about love. Nurses know this, and so do mothers.

Another time I was refusing a bed to a drunken prostitute with a huge, toothless, rouged mouth, a nightmare of a mouth. She had been raising a disturbance in the [community] house. I kept remembering how Saint Therese said that when you had to refuse anyone anything, you could at least do it so that the person went away a bit happier. I had to deny her a bed but when that woman asked me to kiss her, I did, and it was a loathsome thing, the way she did it. It was scarcely a mark of normal human affection.

Love must be tried and tested and proved. It must be tried as though by fire. And fire burns.

We suffer these things and they fade from memory. But daily, hourly, to give up our own possessions and especially to subordinate our own impulses and wishes to others – these are hard, hard things; and I don’t think they ever get any easier.

We have repeated so many times that those who have two coats should follow the early church fathers who said, “The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor.” And those who have a ten-room house can well share it with those who have none. How many large houses could be made into several apartments to take in others? Much hospitality could be given to relieve the grave suffering today. But people are afraid. They do not know where it will end. They have all gone far enough in generosity to know that an ordeal is ahead, that the person taken in will most likely turn into “the friend of the family.” No use starting something that you cannot finish, they say. Once bitten is twice shy. We have all had our experiences of ingratitude, of nursing a viper in our bosom, as the saying goes. So we forget about the necessity of pruning, in the natural order, to attain much fruit. We don’t want to pay the cost of love. We do not want to exercise our capacity to love.

There are many stories one could tell about Catholic Worker life, but it is always better to wait until years have passed so that they become more impersonal, less apt to be identified with this one or that.

There is a story, however, about a reader of the paper, and this happened long enough ago so that we can tell it. Our friend adopted a young girl and educated her, and the young girl proved to be a great joy and comfort. Now she has entered a contemplative order to spend her life in prayer and work. The same reader then took in another young woman, who brought home a fatherless baby, and when that was forgiven her, went out and brought in still another, and there was apt to be a third. Our friend wrote and begged us for advice and help as to what to do. Was she contributing to the delinquency of this girl by forgiving seventy times seven, and was she perhaps going to have seventy times seven children to take care of?

It is good to think of the prophet Hosea, whom I have mentioned before in writing on love. He was commanded by God to take a harlot to wife, and she had many children by other men. He was a dignified, respected teacher of his people, and he was shamed and humiliated by the wife of his bosom. Yet he was to go down in history as the type of the love of God for his adulterous people.

Love must be tried and tested and proved. It must be tried as though by fire. And fire burns.

We may be living in a desert when it comes to such perceptions now, and that desert may stretch out before us for years. But a thousand years are as one day in the sight of God, and soon we will know as we are known. Until then we will have glimpses of community in play, in suffering, in serving, and we will begin to train for that community.