When Dorothy Day died in 1980 at the age of eighty-three, the historian David J. O’Brien called her “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism” (p. 711). For many years the daily routine of the writer and activist had consisted of “daily Mass, the rosary, and at least two hours a day of meditation on Scripture” (Ellsberg, p. xviii). A deep Catholic spirituality infused all Day’s writing after she became a Catholic in 1927. In From Union Square to Rome (1938), her early account of her conversion, she wrote: “‘All my life I have been [haunted] by God,’ a character in one of Dostoevsky’s books says. And that is the way it was with me” (pp. 11, 18).
Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn, on November 8, 1897, the third of five children born to Grace Satterlee and John I. Day, an itinerant sportswriter and cofounder of the Hialeah racetrack in Florida. John Day worked as the sports editor of Chicago’s Inter Ocean and also as racing editor of New York’s Morning Telegraph. At age six, Dorothy moved with her family to California, first to Berkeley and then to Oakland. Her leanings toward spirituality and social activism were apparent from a young age; in her autobiography The Long Loneliness she recalled that her child’s “heart leaped when I heard the name of God” (p. 12). The family was marginally Episcopalian, and once when young Dorothy attended a church service by herself, she found the Psalms and the formal prayers deeply moving. At eight, she experienced the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and was struck by the “warmth” and “kindliness” the cataclysm elicited as it broke down the usual barriers between people (On Pilgrimage, p. 47; From Union Square, pp. 23, 32).
Two years later, the family moved to Chicago, where Dorothy attended public high school and was deeply influenced by reading the social novels of Jack London and Upton Sinclair. She later wrote, “the very fact that The Jungle was about Chicago where I lived, whose streets I walked, made me feel from then on that my life was to be linked to theirs [the poor’s], their interests to be