Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Day’

I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
Dorothy Day

d-d-entertaining-anglesRecently I came across a DVD that does a pretty fair job of telling the story of Dorothy Day’s life.

In our busy world it is often easier to watch a good video than to find time for books. I would still recommend reading the biography of Dorothy Day as well as her own writings. They are very inspiring.

The video is titled: Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story.

It is done by “Paulist Pictures”. You can get the DVD from Amazon or many other religious organizations that sell books and biographies of historical Christians.

I thought that the production of the movie was well-done. The actors, Moira Kelly as Dorothy Day and Martin Sheen as her friend and mentor Peter Maurin were very believable in their parts. Often other movies are ruined by the shallowness of the acting but in this production Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen gave very strong performances.

I really appreciated the introduction to the movie – It showed Dorothy in prison in the early 1960’s for protesting the war in Vietnam. It gave the viewer a glimpse of another facet of her life besides caring for the poor. Dorothy believed in peace and justice and was willing to practice what she preached! She went to prison several times.

The scene in the prison may or may not have been a real event in her life, but it pictures for the viewer just how much Dorothy loved the ‘unlovely’.  She comforts a woman cell mate who is quite agitated, seemingly coming off of drugs. As Dorothy sits with the woman’s head in her lap, the woman vomits on Dorothy whose reaction is only kindness and concern. The woman is moved by Dorothy’s kindness and wants to know “What is the story of your life?”

Dorothy begins a reminiscence. She reflects back to the time that she lived like a bohemian in Greenwich village along with friends who were trying to find answers to poverty in socialism and communism. No one in the crowd believed in God. Dorothy herself was very skeptical.

Over the next few years Dorothy suffered from failed love affairs and had many heartbreaks. But she encounters a wonderful nun who shows her love. The nun is also engaged in helping the poor. Dorothy wonders what the nun gets out of it. Dorothy finds out that just helping others gives you great joy.

I won’t give away any more details. I hope that this has whetted your appetite to see a film about a very courageous woman. A woman who did many things that she regretted in her early life but found forgiveness and love in the Lord Jesus. A woman who did not look back but spent her time helping others more unfortunate than she was.

In our day especially, women can be encouraged that they can do great things for God. Dorothy was a single mother with no money whose legacy includes over 100 “soup kitchens” and other places of charity for the poor. She ministered to the lives of thousands of angels.

And if you have some time, read the books too!!

Following are some pictures of the real Dorothy along with some of her most famous quotes.





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Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn Heights New York on November 8, 1897. Her father dorothy dayJohn Day was a sportswriter. Dorothy’s mother was a kind woman whose example of warm-hearted sharing with anyone in need would affect Dorothy for the rest of her life.

Dorothy’s family had moved to San Francisco in 1904 and were there when the great fire destroyed most of the city in 1906. Her mother joined her neighbors in gathering food and clothing for the displaced families who were sleeping in the park in Oakland. Within a few weeks the Day’s would move to Chicago because the newspaper office where John worked was burned down by the fire.

John Day could not find work and began to write a novel. Mrs. Day struggled to put meager food on the table. It was during this time that Dorothy met several kind Catholic women who reflected the love of Christ to her. She never forgot them.
 Eventually John Day was hired by a newspaper and the family moved to a nicer home on the north side of Chicago. Dorothy was an excellent student in her high school. She loved languages and studied Latin and Greek.

Dorothy’s older brother Donald took a job with a small paper. This paper sympathized with the rising labor movement. Through Donald’s influence Dorothy studied the works of Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London, writers who were calling attention to the injustices of the class system in the industrial world. At this time Eugene Debs became a hero in Dorothy’s eyes.

Though her parents did not claim to be religious – Dorothy’s father even claimed to be an atheist – Dorothy loved to read the Bible. She was confused about God in her early years but gradually came to see how Christ manifested love to people, especially the marginalized. She saw that Christ had rejected the “things of this world” but she did not believe that God meant for people to live in abject poverty either.
 Dorothy recalled how her mother and the people in Oakland responded to the poor in the aftermath of the San Francisco fire. She dreamed of the day when all people, not just the social workers and missionaries, would be open-handed and generous to the poor.

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?*

Dorothy’s father lost his job again. She did not know if she could afford to go to college but because of her excellence in Latin and Greek she won a scholarship to the University of Illinois. She began to attend in 1914. She enjoyed her independence very much but never forgot the poor and downtrodden.
 After two years Dorothy’s father got a job in New York City. Dorothy decided to leave school and go to New York to be close to her family.

Dorothy looked for a job at a newspaper and finally found one in 1916.
 She worked for several socialist newspapers and also took part in the anti-war activities of many of her friends opposing the military draft. People in our day have come to accept US involvement in war but in 1917 many Americans wanted to let Europe solve its own problems. Dorothy may have been accused of being anti-patriotic when Wilson made laws against speaking out against his policy of war. Later during the Vietnam war many would agree with Dorothy’s belief that America should not interfere in wars. In spite of the changing attitudes of Americans about fighting in wars, Dorothy would remain a pacifist.

It should come as no surprise then that Dorothy would take part in the women’s suffrage movement. On one occasion after a protest Dorothy and other suffragettes were arrested and put in prison. They were treated abominably. It was hard for her to believe that human beings could treat fellow humans that way. “I had an ugly sense of the futility of human effort, man’s helpless misery, the triumph of might. Man’s dignity was but a word and a lie. Evil triumphed,” she later wrote. Dorothy struggled with her faith in the face of such injustice.

In the next few years Dorothy experienced love, marriage, and the birth of a child. With her common law husband, Forster Batterham she had a daughter, Tamar in 1926. During this time Dorothy was renewing her growth in her Catholic faith and she wanted to be baptized and to get Tamar baptized. The whole discussion of religion bothered Forster and eventually he left his wife and daughter. He would only return at the very end of his life to visit Dorothy when he was dying of cancer. At that time they would make amends and renew friendship. Dorothy always remained devoted to Tamar for the rest of her life, always finding time to be with Tamar and her children even during Dorothy’s busiest years.

The 1930’s was the time of the Great Depression. Dorothy began to seek ways to live out her Catholic faith in service to the poor. In 1932 her prayer was answered when Peter Maurin knocked on her door. He was a French immigrant who had a vision for a society that really lived out Christian virtues.

dorothy day live drastically

Together Peter Maurin and Dorothy founded a newspaper called the Catholic Worker. The goal was to start houses for the poor and farming communes. Over the next few years the idea would blossom until it was replicated worldwide.

Dorothy was asked to speak many times. She was really shy but she knew that her talks were spreading the philosophy of the Catholic Worker. Dorothy longed to see a time when everyone would serve humanity through each one’s individual efforts. Putting aside her fear of speaking in front of crowds, Dorothy began to speak to school groups, women’s clubs, conventions, and other social workers. Dorothy bravely explained the concept of service to those in need as real Christianity.

 I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.

Dorothy practiced what she preached. Choosing voluntary poverty, she lived in a small upstairs room in one of the houses of hospitality. Lest one think that she thought of herself as a martyr she maintained that she was privileged. All she needed was a bed and bath and two large shelves full of books. After all, if you’re so busy serving others what else do you need in life? Dorothy was happy.

During World War II Dorothy worked extra hard in the hospitality houses due to the shortage of men. Her pacifist stance was unpopular but in years to come many would see that it was consistent for this woman who wanted all people to love one another.

Dorothy welcomed the strides that the African-Americans made during the 1950’s. On one occasion Dorothy visited an integrated commune. There were strict segregation laws in Georgia and the people in the commune received many threats. Dorothy was warned that there could be violence. One night, fifty-nine year-old Dorothy was on watch duty when suddenly she heard screeching tires. Soon a shower of bullets was rained down on the car in which she was sitting. Dorothy had been criticized for her beliefs, and spent time in prison; now she nearly lost her life in the cause of justice.

In the 1960’s Dorothy would go to the Vatican in Rome to urge the Church to make a strong anti-war statement. Dorothy was thrilled when many protested the Vietnam war.
While in Rome she joined a ten-day fast to bring the attention of the public to the starving millions of the world.

dorothy day poverty

In the 1970’s Dorothy marched with Cesar Chavez to protest the mistreatment of farm workers. One thousand protesters were arrested, Dorothy among them. By this time Dorothy was in her seventies and beginning to look a little frail. However, she took her two week incarceration stoically, remarking, “If it weren’t a prison it would be a nice place to rest.”

Dorothy was beginning to tire. She turned down speaking engagements but continued to write for the Catholic Worker and to visit with family and friends.
Dorothy was distressed about the changes in the world in the 70’s. Even the Catholic Church seemed to be changing. But she found consolation in her Bible. As she had done since the earliest days of her conversion she read from the Psalms every morning. Reading her Bible, Dorothy was comforted in her belief that Jesus Christ is our example of love and living.

My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.

In her old age Dorothy received many honorary degrees and awards. During her life she had written many books including; “From Union Square to Rome”, “House of Hospitality”, “Loaves and Fishes”, “The Long Loneliness”, and “On Pilgrimage”.

In 1979 the hospitality house where Dorothy was living was sold and she moved back to New York City into a hospitality house called Maryhouse. In her quarters in this house Dorothy passed her time reading, writing, and receiving visitors. On November 29, 1980 Dorothy died peacefully in her room. Her beloved daughter Tamar was with her during her final hours. Her final resting place is the Cemetery of the Resurrection on Staten Island.

*Throughout this essay I sprinkled appropriate quotes from Dorothy’s writings.




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Still More Books About Extraordinary Women

These reviews include two famous women explorers, a godly pastor’s wife who wrote a very famous hymn, a champion of the poor, and a missionary to western Africa. It is marvelous how many ways God uses women to take the Gospel to the lost. I hope you will get these books. You will be inspired and blessed!


—  Soskice, Janet, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels, (Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, New York, 2010).

sisters of sinai bookDuring the nineteenth century the Bible came under attack by liberal scholars influenced by the so-called “higher criticism”. Critics not only doubted the dates of the Gospels but they doubted the integrity of the text itself.

Faithful Christians never doubted that the Word of God was given by the Holy Spirit and that the Scriptures had been protected by God down through the centuries. They longed to counter the claims of the liberals but there were very few ancient copies of the Scriptures to authenticate their claim that the Bible indeed was written by Paul and other men of God during the first century.

But God has continually protected His Word and in His providence directed the finding of evidence of its veracity. Twin sisters – Margaret Smith Gibson and Agnes Smith Lewis – came across one of the earliest known copies of the four Gospels in a secluded monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.

Janet Soskice tells the story of these remarkable twin sisters in a very engaging manner. Not only is this a great adventure story, but Janet Soskice gives all of the background to the machinations and intrigues of those scholars who hunted for ancient manuscripts. Cambridge University wanted to downplay any credit to the Smith twins, simply because they were women. God chooses whom He will to serve Him and these sisters gave a great gift to the world. You will have a hard time putting this book down.


—  James, Sharon, Elizabeth Prentiss: ‘More Love to Thee’, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2006).

Many people are familiar with the hymn “More Love to Thee”. Not many know that ite prentiss book was written by a very godly Christian woman after the nearly fatal illness of her daughter. Elizabeth had suffered many tragedies in her life but always remained faithful to Christ.

 More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee;
This is my earnest plea,
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

In this wonderful biography of Elizabeth Prentiss Sharon James relates the story of this virtuous pastor’s wife in a way that will bless you as you seek to grow in your love for God. For over one hundred and forty years Christians have been given hope by the words of Elizabeth Prentiss through her hymns and her writings. She truly lived for Christ and has inspired many to do the same.


—  Prentiss, Elizabeth, Stepping Heavenward,  (The Bible People, USA, 2014).

stepping heavenwardElizabeth Prentiss wrote many books and poetry. Her children’s stories were very popular in the mid nineteenth century. “Stepping Heavenward” is one of the books that remains popular today. Elizabeth’s hymn, “More Love to Thee” expressed all that she wanted for her life. That message is timeless and many Christian women have been drawn closer to God while reading this book.

Published in 1869, within thirty years more than 200,000 copies were sold. “Stepping Heavenward” relates the theme of the centrality of our love for God in the form of a story. It appears as a diary of a woman who gives the day to day events of her life as she prepares for eternal life with God.

There are many editions of “Stepping Heavenward”. The one referenced above also contains study questions that may be used by women’s Bible studies.


—  Kent, Deborah, Dorothy Day: Friend to the Forgotten, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1996).

Deborah Kent presents this story beginning with Dorothy’s early memories of her Dorothy Daymother’s aid to the destitute and homeless after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, through the devastation of the depression, the aftermath of World War II, and the demonstrations for worker’s rights in the 1970’s, and many other causes.

Dorothy Day’s life was one of service to others for over four decades. She is well known as the leader of the Catholic Worker Movement. She was committed to social justice because of her love for Christ. Her Bible was her main solace.

Dorothy believed that the best way to get people to behave well was to set the example of Christian living. This she did until her death. Many people today are following in her path of caring for the poor with food, shelter, and love.

This edition of the biography of Dorothy Day is part of a series written for young people entitled, “Women of Spirit”. Most of these volumes seem to be out of print but if you can find them it will be rewarding. They tell the stories of women who made great contributions to society while highlighting their faith.

If you cannot find this edition, get any good book on Dorothy Day because her example of how to truly “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk” is what made her so endearing to those around her.


—  Lutz, Lorry, When God Says Go: The Amazing Journey of a Slave’s Daughter (Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2002).

eliza davis george bookGrowing up a “poor little black girl” in Texas, Eliza Davis George learned about Jesus and then chose to serve Him by taking the Gospel to her ancestors in western Africa. She served in Liberia and lived to the remarkable old age of 100. Many hundreds of Liberians called her “Mother Eliza” as she rescued girls from forced marriages to old men and provided education for tribal peoples.

When the official leaders would not support her mission, she raised the funds herself. Mother-Eliza-Davis-GeorgeShe went to Africa with very little money but she knew God had called her and she went trusting in Him to care for her. When she returned to the States she raised money for Africa.

This feisty little woman will want to make you cheer as you read how she overcame so many obstacles to love people with the love of Jesus.

Lorry Lutz’s book reads like a novel and you will really enjoy it! You will be so blessed by this indomitable woman – one that I truly cannot wait to talk to when I get to Heaven!


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