Dorothy Day: a saint for our times

The Vatican has given its approval to the process by which Dorothy Day may become canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, declaring Day a "Servant of God." Salt of the Earth first called for Day's canonization in 1983.

Responding to a February 7 letter from New York's John Cardinal O'Connor presenting the case for Day's canonization, Vatican officials approved the start of the lengthy investigation of Day's life that could lead to sainthood. The effort to promote Day's sainthood has drawn criticism from both church traditionalists and church "progressives." The former argue her political beliefs and "reckless" past make her a poor choice for sainthood, and the latter worry that canonization only trivializes the example of lay leadership and sanctity that was Day's life.

Thomas McGrath, editorial director of Claretian Publications, told the Washington Post: "I'd rather risk having her tamed than forgotten. She belongs to the ages. She's a saint for our times, someone who can help us make sense of the challenges of the time."

Cardinal O'Connor said his decision to promote the cause of Day's canonization was at least partly attributable to the "grassroots" support for canonization from individuals and from the Claretian Missionaries, publishers of this website and U.S. Catholic magazine.

For more on Day's canonization:

More on the life of Dorothy Day:

Back to page top

A statement from Rev. Mark J. Brummel, C.M.F.:

It is with gratitude and satisfaction that the Claretian Missionaries share the good news of the approval of the canonization process for Dorothy Day. We commend His Eminence John Cardinal O'Connor for his thoughtful and eloquent presentation of Dorothy Day's case before the Vatican.

Day brought many gifts to the church—her perseverence, her holiness, her journalist's critical vision—but perhaps her greatest gift was pointing the 20th century American church in a new direction, to the vulnerable and voiceless among us. She was the presence of the church to many people who otherwise would have been forgotten. Her example of profound personal spirituality and sacrifice, lay leadership, and uncompromising pacifism makes Day a daughter of the church and a "Servant of God" worth emulating by all Catholics—and all people of good will.

We look forward to the coming process in the confidence that whatever the result, Day remains, as Father Henry Fehren wrote in his 1983 call for her canonization, "a saint for our time and place."

Back to page top

History of Claretian efforts on behalf of Dorothy Day's canonization

The Claretian effort began with publication of the article "Let's canonize Dorothy Day" by Father Henry Fehren in the September 1983 issue of Salt magazine. In connection with this article the magazine issued a call for people to send us personal accounts of Dorothy Day's influence on their lives and evidence of her special holiness.

Salt subsequently published testimonials and letters received in response to this call.

In 1984, we began to make available prayer cards and posters (to date we have distributed a total of 286,000 cards and 18,600 posters). Many people who request cards or posters also include notes about their great admiration for Dorothy Day. At the time, Claretian Publications also put together a brochure on Dorothy Day and the canonization effort.

In 1985, staff met with Claretian Father Lozano, who worked in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome and gave an overview of the steps in the official canonization process.

In 1987, we solicited more letters, in particular from U.S. bishops and Catholic leaders and people who knew Day as well as those who have been praying to her.

The same year, we also sent a letter to Cardinal O'Connor, summarizing some of our efforts and asking for his support of the cause. The reply from the cardinal's secretary reiterated the cardinal's great interest in promoting the cause.

In 1993, we organized (in collaboration with DePaul) an address by Jim Forest at DePaul University. Topic: "What I learned about justice from Dorothy Day."

Over the years, we have published in Salt and U.S. Catholic some 15 articles about Dorothy Day and have continued to send out prayer cards and posters, and have collected several thousand letters and testimonials.

We have also collected some of Dorothy Day's books and writings and some of the books and articles written about her.

In 1997, we commissioned another article by Jim Forest and, in anticipation of Day's centenary, also reviewed what could be some next steps in the canonization effort. We felt that the centenary was the perfect opportunity to breathe some new life into the effort and that the time was right to do more to get the official process going. We compiled several folders with some of the materials we have been collecting—testimonials, letters of support, letters from people who have prayed to Day, published articles—and sent them to Cardinal O'Connor with the request to consider using the centenary as an opportunity to officially open the cause. We also expressed our willingness to assist him in the work for this cause.

Prior and subsequent to mailing the package to O'Connor, we had some correspondence and discussion with several people who have been supportive of the cause. In October, we also talked on the phone with Msgr. Robert Sarnow at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome about the official process.

On March 26, U.S. Catholc Managing Editor Meinrad Scherer-Emunds participated in the second meeting called by Cardinal O'Connor to discuss whether he should officially open Day's cause. The cardinal had asked us to give an overview of the Claretian efforts so far. At the meeting, he graciously expressed his gratitude to the Claretians. He announced that he had concluded that he should proceed and that he was planning to present a letter to the Congregation during one of his next visits to Rome. The scope of our continued involvement remained unclear after this meeting.

We are planning to create a Web site informing people about the canonization effort and soliciting additional testimonials and comments.