Memories of Dorothy Day

These recollections are excerpted from Voices from the Catholic Worker compiled by Rosalie Riegle Troester, Temple University Press, 1993. They are reproduced here with permission of Dr. Troester.

Ade Bethune (Catholic Worker artist):

I remember I’d already received a card from the editors saying that they were going to use some of my drawings in the paper. Then I saw a notice that they could use clothes, so I started gathering old clothes, and one day I went down to the Catholic Worker with two bags of clothes.

I guess I must have looked petrified when I arrived, being so shy and not dressed to the hilt, I would say. A big tall woman who looked as though she had been carved with an ax, you know, strolled across the room. Heh! I was scared of her. But she said very kindly, “Are these your things? I’m awfully sorry we don’t have any room, but we’ll try to put you somewhere.”

She thought I needed a room. Hospitality was being practised on me! I said, “Well, I’m the girl who made the pictures.”

“Oh, you are?”, she said. “Sit right down.” I thought Dorothy was very bossy at first. She sat me down on a pile of newspapers and sat herself down on another pile. Dorothy was interested in the stories of the saints. Real people doing the works of mercy. Not abstract personifications but real people. St. Vincent de Paul with the little babies that he gave homes to, and St. Martin de Porres taking care of the sick. So every month I studied the saints whose feast days were that month and made the pictures for the Catholic Worker

Michael Harrington (writer):

I arrived at the Worker shortly after Cardinal Spellman had sent McIntyre down to read the riot act. What was apparently bugging Spellman was that the paper was called the Catholic Worker . What he was angling for, and didn’t get, was for [Dorothy] to drop the word “Catholic.” He believed [the name] was an attempt to indicate that this was a Catholic position, and he didn’t want anybody else speaking for the church. This was the famous occasion when McIntyre said to her, “What would you do if the cardinal told you to shut down the Catholic Worker?”

She said, “If our dear, sweet cardinal, who is the vicar of Christ in New York City, told me to shut down the Catholic Worker, I would close it down immediately.” She was dead serious. That’s what drove me crazy. Dorothy really did go around referring to Spellman as “our dear, sweet cardinal” and “the vicar of Christ.”

Jim Forest (editor and author):

When I think of Dorothy, I think of her first and foremost as a woman at prayer. Dorothy was a praying person. If she was at the farm at Tivoli, there was a fairly good chance you’d find her in the chapel. Either there or at the table drinking coffee with visitors.

If she was in the chapel, she’d be by herself, even if other people were there. Those old knees and those thick, dark stockings and those bulky shoes. She’d be there for a long time. I’m sure it wasn’t that comfortable for her to be on her knees at that point. I can remember — nosy, snooping-around person that I was and still am — going up to look into her missal or Bible or whatever she had left on the pew, looking through and seeing all these lists of people she was praying for. In that unmistakable italic-like handwriting.

Judith Molina (theater director and actress):

Everyone went underground for the civil defense drills, but Dorothy said, “I will not go.” A very strong act of will, an act of will in which she contradicts what everybody wants her to do, including the church. It was a great privilege and a marvel to be secluded with a woman like that, to come close to such a soul.

Dorothy became very quickly a legend in the prison. There was a lot of press at the time and a picket line outside. Everybody was aware of it, and we were certainly celebrities of a sort inside the prison. Most of the guards were Catholic, and they came to her and had their Bibles blessed and their rosaries kissed.

Joe Zarrella (Catholic Worker):

You know, lots of people always quote that business about Dorothy saying, “Don’t make me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.” And I think — now this is my personal opinion — but I think the reason she said that was not that she was against canonization or saints. Dorothy was forever quoting the saints. She was saying that she didn’t want to be considered a saint like people in those days considered them.

Tom Cornell (author and editor):

I don’t think Dorothy started with any intention of leading a movement. I think her confessors told her it was God’s will, and that the authority upon her shoulders was devolving naturally. She didn’t seek that authority, it came to her, and that’s why she could exercise it so effectively.

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