Dorothy Day (1897–1980)
Dorothy Day, perhaps the most important Catholic in the history of the church in the United States, lived out a call to “divine obedience”—that is, civil disobedience—throughout her life. She put into practice the adage that if one truly gives to God what belongs to God, not much should remain to give to Caesar.1 She was a champion for peace and a deep critic of materialism. An enthusiast of the great Russian novelists, she believed that the world would be saved by beauty.2
Day was an anarchist and member of the Wobblies, the International Workers of the World.3 She never joined the Communist Party, but her principles and her activism grew from the social, the communal, and the personal and always emphasized the dignity of the individual person. Like St. Francis of Assisi, she endeavored to see Christ in every person.4 In her late twenties, Day became a Catholic. She was radical in her social action and orthodox in her theology. She appreciated the moral lessons of great literature, which supplemented her groundwork of daily prayer, scripture reading, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.5
In light of these facets of Day's life, her relationship to law, politics, and society carries much that is both interesting and problematic. Dorothy Day fervently practiced the two great biblical commandments, love of God and love of neighbor.6 She believed, however, that much of the secular law in the materialist and militarist economy of the United States is unjust and, indeed, contradicts the law of God written in the human heart. Day was a zealous devotee of God's law, but she had little use for anything that impeded the Law of Love.
Day first achieved fame as a journalist. In 1933. while living in New York in the depths of the Great Depression, she cofounded the Catholic Worker newspaper as a deliberate alternative to the Daily Worker newspaper of the Communist Party.7 She concurrently initiated the Catholic Worker