Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dorothy Day

Bio: A Communist in her 20’s and a convert to Catholicism during the Depression years, Dorothy Day is the founder and major directive force of the Catholic Worker Movement, known for its hospitality houses and rural communities. She is a humble, deeply spiritual woman who has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and sheltered the homeless. She has nourished many of the radical Catholic figures of the day, and is known for her long-time peace witness.

The first selection * is from the Fall Appeal (there is also a Spring Appeal) that she writes for The Catholic Worker to raise funds for her work at St. Joseph’s House, 36 East First Street, New York, 10003, and was dated October 1971. The second selection * enunciates principles of the Catholic Worker Movement that have been influenced by the thought and experiences of Dorothy Day.


"St. Augustine has some good advice about voluntary poverty which enables us all to do the works of mercy: “Find out how much God has given you, and from it take what you need; the remainder which you do not require is needed by others. The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. Those who retain what is superfluous possess the goods of others.”

To serve others, to give what we have is not enough unless we always show the utmost respect for each other and all we meet."

"And I think too that that is what our soup line means. All the young students who live with us show their respect by doing the menial jobs, cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, washing dishes. Men from this Bowery area also help with the mailing of the 80,000 copies of The Catholic Worker each month. It is a community activity, a little “industry” in which all share in the profits, those profits meaning a place to live, food, clothing, companion ship, etc. Of course it is work which men need most. We are ever conscious of that. But we all have that; we are self-employed, with no bosses! And no wages! “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need.” Or, as St. Paul puts it, “Let your abundance supply their want.” So God bless us all, and you too, who have helped us over the years, and will again, we know."

"IN ECONOMICS—because the guiding principle is production for profit and because production determines needs. A just order would provide the necessities of life for all, and needs would deter mine what would be produced. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Today we have a non-producing class which is maintained by the labor of others with the consequence that the laborer is systematically robbed of that wealth which he produces over and above what is needed for his bare maintenance.

IN PSYCHOLOGY—because capitalist society fails to take in the whole nature of man but rather regards him as an economic factor in production. He is an item in the expense sheet of the employer. Profit determines what type of work he shall do. Hence, the deadly routine of assembly lines and the whole mode of factory production. In a just order the question will be whether a certain type of work is in accord with human values, not whether it will bring a profit to the exploiters of labor.

IN MORALS—because capitalism is maintained by class war. Since the aim of the capitalist employer is to obtain labor as cheaply as possible and the aim of labor is to sell itself as dearly as possible and buy the products produced as cheaply as possible, there is an inevitable and persistent conflict which can only be overcome when the capitalist ceases to exist as a class. When there is but one class the members perform different functions but there is no longer an employer/wage-earner relationship.


A complete rejection of the present social order and a non violent revolution to establish an order more in accord with Christian values. This can only be done by direct action since political means have failed as a method for bringing about this society. Therefore we advocate a personalism which takes on ourselves responsibility for changing conditions to the extent that we are able to do so. By establishing Houses of Hospitality we can take care of as many of those in need as we can rather than turn them over to the impersonal “charity” of the State. We do not do this in order to patch up the wrecks of the capitalist system but rather because there is always a shared responsibility in these things and (lie call to minister to our brother transcends any consideration of economics. We feel that what anyone possesses beyond basic needs does not belong to him but rather to the poor who are without it.

We believe in a withdrawal from the capitalist system so far as each one is able to do so. Toward this end we favor the establishment of a distributist economy wherein those who have a vocation to the land will work on the farms surrounding the village itself. In this way we will have a decentralized economy which will dispense with the State as we know it and will be federationist in character as was society during certain periods that preceded the rise of national states.

We believe in worker-ownership of the means of production and distribution, as distinguished from nationalization. This is to be accomplished by decentralized co-operatives and the elimination of a distinct employer class. It is revolution from below and not (as political revolutions are) from above. It calls for widespread and universal ownership by all men of property as a stepping stone to a communism that will be in accord with the Christian teaching of detachment from material goods and which, when realized, will express itself in common ownership. “Property, the more common it is, the more holy it is,” St. Gertrude writes.

We believe in the complete equality of all men as brothers under the Fatherhood of God. Racism in any form is blasphemy against God who created all mankind in his image and who offers redemption to all. Man comes to God freely or not at all and it is not the function of any man or institution to force the Faith on anyone. Persecution of any people is therefore a serious sin and denial of free will.

We believe further that the revolution that is to be pursued in ourselves and in society must be pacifist. Otherwise it will proceed by force and use means that are evil and which will never be out grown, so that they will determine the END of the revolution and that end will again be tyranny. We believe that Christ went beyond natural ethics and the Old Dispensation in this matter of force and war and taught non-violence as a way of life. So that when we fight tyranny and injustice and the class war we must do so by spiritual weapons and by non—cooperation. Refusal to pay taxes, refusal to register for conscription refusal to lake part in civil—defense drills, non-violent strikes, withdrawal from the system are all methods that can be employed in this fight for justice.

We believe that success, as the world determines it, is not the criterion by which a movement should be judged. We must be prepared and ready to face seeming failure. The most important thing is that we adhere to these values which transcend time and for which we will be asked a personal accounting, not as to whether they succeeded (though we should hope that they do) but as to whether we remained true to them even though the whole world go otherwise."

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