Printer Friendly

A halo for Dorothy.

Robert Ellsberg, a member of the advisory board for the Dorothy Day Guild, responds to a column by Colman McCarthy

Sometimes peace activists become so accustomed to being ignored, they have a hard time taking yes for an answer. Colman McCarthy, in "Putting a halo on Dorothy Day shows her no love" (NCR, June 5-18), assumes that any bishop interested in promoting the canonization of Dorothy Day must be part of a "self-serving" effort to "defang" her radical peace message.

And yet he presents no evidence that this is the case. In fact, statements by the late Cardinal John O'Connor and more recently Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current archbishop of New York, have shown deep appreciation for Dorothy's challenging message, including her pacifist witness.

Since Colman's article is in large part an answer to my article in the May issue of the Catholic Worker (which he terms, "Eloquent yes. Convincing no."), readers might be interested in assessing my actual arguments. [The article, by Robert Ellsburg, was reprinted by America and is available online at americamaga]

I wrote precisely to address people I admire like Colman McCarthy who have no doubts about Dorothy's holiness but oppose or distrust the business of canonization. I, too, believe that putting Dorothy on a pedestal "shows her no love." Yet I do not believe that naming her a saint requires this.

Franz Jagerstatter was beatified not despite, but because of, his courageous witness--though it took many years for the hierarchy to acknowledge it.

The recent beatification of Oscar Romero--as a martyr killed "in hatred of the faith" and not simply as a pious churchman who unfortunately got himself mixed up in politics--similarly marks a real, if belated, acknowledgement of his prophetic witness.

To include Romero among the official saints of the church doesn't have to involve watering down his witness. How we remember and keep his spirit alive is a task that falls on all the people of God--especially those who aspire to be his followers. But I think his beatification does move the church several steps forward in envisioning and promoting a model of faithful discipleship for our time.

Colman seemingly links the Dorothy Day Guild (on which another of Dorothy's granddaughters serves) as part of the bishops' "sick" project to water down her message and to ignore her pacifism. A look at the website of the Dorothy Day Guild ( will make it obvious how unfounded this is.

My friend Colman seems to be stuck in 1980, still seemingly stung by the fact that no bishops attended Dorothy's funeral, as he and I did. But he shows no acknowledgment that in the era of Pope Francis, the church might be ready to embrace her holiness--as it has with Romero--without compromise or apology, and that this might be a good thing.

Dorothy herself did not want to be put on a pedestal; no actual saint would want this. And yet she had enormous devotion to the saints and respect even for the process of canonization--despite its cumber some and bureaucratic trappings. She believed, above all, that saints remind us of our universal call to holiness and show us concretely, in their response to the needs of their time, what this might look like.

Could it be that it is actually those who oppose her canonization, on the grounds that she is "too good" for the corrupt church, who are putting her on a pedestal she would have disdained?

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, speaking at a recent conference on Dorothy Day, remarked: "I don't know if Dorothy Day is a saint. That is for the church to decide. But I know that she makes me want to be a saint." Whether that attitude "shows her no love" is a question that readers may decide for themselves.


Maryknoll, N.Y.

Why has the number of Catholic Worker communities doubled since Dorothy Day's death in 1980? I maintain a directory of houses at, and there are now 236 communities (208 in the U.S., 28 internationally), up from about 120 when she died.

A partial answer is that her life and witness continue to inspire people to follow her lead. That's why we have saints, to lead us to following Christ, not themselves.


Newtonville, Mass.

I would agree wholeheartedly with Colman McCarthy that Dorothy Day should not be canonized if I agreed with him that a saint is some kind of a plaster statue put up on the shelf by the church in order to diminish her/his accessibility and transformative power, but that is not what a saint is.

Dorothy rejected that image of sainthood when she told people, who thought they couldn't do what she did, not to call her a saint. To stress this point, she said, "We are all called to be saints." Dorothy knew that saints are not superheroes, but sinners trying to follow God.

The Vatican's process is much too expensive. But to make the case that the funds allocated to Dorothy's canonization is a misappropriation better spent on the poor is to ignore the fact that the Pentagon spends much more money every nine seconds than would be used to formally acknowledge what most of us in the Catholic Worker movement already know: that Dorothy Day is certainly in the company of the saints.


Worcester, Mass.

[Scott Schaeffer-Duffy belongs to Sts. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker in Worcester.]

I am writing to express my surprise at the anti-canonization piece about Dorothy Day.

The argument seems to be that since the hierarchy never embraced the totality of Day's message, they cannot be permitted to canonize her. (This smacks of "I won't share my marbles.")

If this were the standard of acknowledged sainthood, St. Joan of Arc would never have made the grade. Not only did the church disagree with her, they were (at least in part) responsible for burning her to death. Nearly 500 years later, was Pope Benedict XV thus wrong in changing positions?

Merely because the church may be all the things Day accused it of and is attempting to sell a vanilla Dorothy seems little cause to deny the faithful the publicity and glory of Day's Gospel witness, great whether partial or whole.


Santa Ana, Calif.


Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
COPYRIGHT 2015 National Catholic Reporter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:LETTERS
Author:Ellsberg, Robert; Allaire, James; Schaeffer-Duffy, Scott; Doyle, Edward
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jun 19, 2015
Previous Article:Self-determination undermined: ignoring UN resolutions, Morocco exploits Western Sahara resources.
Next Article:Avalanche crashes into family ideal: in Swedish film 'Force Majeure,' nature's disaster is just the beginning.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters