Fellow Traveler: Nina Polcyn Moore, R.I.P

By Frisbie, Margery | Commonweal, May 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Fellow Traveler: Nina Polcyn Moore, R.I.P


Frisbie, Margery, Commonweal


She called herself a "merchant princess and trafficker in crucifixes." And so she was, entrepreneur extraordinaire, friend of Dorothy Day, social activist, doyenne of religious books and art in Chicago in the halcyon 1950s and '60s.

Nina Polcyn Moore, who died February 10 of congestive heart failure at her home in Evanston, Illinois, had a protean personality--serious of intent, merry in mode, generous with time and money, contemporary in thought. Her journalism professor at Marquette University in the 1930s advised students to sparkle when they spoke. In the 2000s, Nina still quoted that advice with approval.

Nina's personality was shaped by the people she had known. Her father, a railway switchman who admired Eugene Debs, bought her a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica when she was six months old. Her mother, always an example, fed the poor during the Depression. Bishop Bernard Sheil, who hired Nina to be associate director of his Sheil School of Adult Education in Chicago, was a pioneer in interracial justice. Preeminently, Dorothy Day showed Nina how to care for the poor.

Roy Larson, former religion editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, summed up Nina as "indefatigable in her efforts to unite fine taste and deep piety, liturgical devotion and a passion for social justice, tradition, and imagination."

Nina discovered her true passion early on: serving the poor. As a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1934, she asked the school to invite Dorothy Day to speak. Only if you find her a place to sleep, she was told. So Dorothy Day spent the first of many nights at Nina's family home and spoke at Marquette. They became best of friends, according to Nina's sister, Helen Heyrman.

On her graduation from Marquette, Nina joined Day in New York for a summer at Day's Catholic Worker House. She accompanied the group--this was in the 1930s--in picketing the German embassy to protest Adolph Hitler. …

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