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SOCIETY/ Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement

June Wed 22, 2011

Dorothy Day  Dorothy Day

This week I was asked to participate in a discussion about Dorothy Day, founder of the “Catholic Worker Movement.” The story of her life captures like none other the history of the Catholic Church in the United States during the last century, and a judgment on her life pretty much indicates how American Catholics look at the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn, NY, on November 8, 1897 and died on November 29, 1980. I must confess that I knew very little about her during the 60’s and 70’s, except that she was a very controversial Catholic pacifist, feminist, and maybe socialist who made many Church authorities very nervous (and still does here and there). I knew about her opposition to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but it was not until recently that I read her stunning editorial excerpted below so you can get a feel for her soul’s style:

Mr. Truman was jubilant. President Truman. True man; what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant…the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese…

Jubilate Deo. President Truman was jubilant. We have created. We have created destruction. We have created a new element, called Pluto. Nature had nothing to do with it…


Brought into being in a cavern, and then tried in a desert place, in the midst of tempest and lightning, tried out, and then again on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, on a far off island in the eastern hemisphere, tried out again, this "new weapon which conceivably might wipe out mankind, and perhaps the planet itself."


"We have spent two billion on the greatest scientific gamble in history and won," said President Truman jubilantly…Scientists, army officers, great universities (Notre Dame included), and captains of industry -- all are given credit lines in the press for their work of preparing the bomb -- and other bombs, the President assures us, are in production now...

Everyone says, "I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?" How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgement, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgment on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

"You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save." He said also, "What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me." 



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