Library Resources, Special Collections

Dorothy Day: Saint or Sinner?

Who was Dorothy Day?

Dorothy Day was a bohemian social activist and anarchist who did not abandon these liberal beliefs after she converted to Catholicism in 1927 (she was born to Protestant parents), following the birth of her daughter. Additionally, Day started the leftist newspaper, The Catholic Worker. The publication began selling in 1933 for one penny and hasn’t raised its price since. The paper inspired the Catholic Worker movement, of which the core foundations are commitments that Day firmly believed in–such as serving the poor and engaging in peaceful activism on their behalf.

A Friend to Fordham

These two letters from Dorothy Day are written to Fordham faculty member and friend of Day, Brother Leonard Gilhooley. Brother Gilhooley taught English at Fordham University from 1966 until his death in 1986. Additionally, The Catholic Worker newspaper (founded by Day) discusses unionization at Fordham University.

Dec 27, 1974, Feast of St. John

Dear Fr. Gilhooley,

How good you are! God bless you mightily- you and Senator Albano. You’ve made our Christmas happier and we all appreciate your help. (And for the help you sent towards the Maryhouse for shopping bag ladies and its repairs. Gratitude is a happy feeling.

Sincerely in Christ,

Dorothy Day

Day writes to Brother Gilhooley. She thanks him for a gift and suggests an idea for a community home, or shelter, for elderly women. (The transcription below is from a former Fordham archivist.)

April 2nd [year not listed]

Dear Father Gilhooley,

God bless you for your help, and Bishop Hind too in whose honor you sent your gift. Will you pray please for St. Zita’s to be re-activated to care for women? The kind of drunken, or out-of-their-mind street women who sleep in doorways or sit in our dining room until 11 at night hoping to be overlooked when we lock up. (and they surrounded with shopping bags- all their earthly goods.) We are always full-up, and it is heart breaking to think of institutions which could be used for these terrible desperate (?) cases. They are at home with us because we are the off scouring (?). They like our atmosphere. The Episcopalians used to have a “flop house” for such, turned it over to the Salvation army who in a decade had enough, and now care only for young working girls. Something in the way of shelter should be found for old women. Maybe you have some ideas.

Love and gratitude-

Dorothy Day

Too Left-Wing to be a Catholic Saint?

Day is known to have been both politically radical and theologically orthodox, and thus remains a controversial figure for American Catholics and for the Church at large. In the New York Times article, “Was Dorothy Day Too Left-Wing to be a Catholic Saint,” Reverend Anthony Andreassi describes Day as someone who “both the left and the right find so much richness in” (Stack, 2022). Certainly, her legacy is a complicated one.

Currently, the Church has opened a cause for Day’s possible canonization. In order to achieve sainthood, the Church must document two miracles that occurred thanks to Day’s intervention. Despite her devout loyalty to the Church, Day’s avant-garde past strikes a discordant debate over whether or not she should be considered a saint. For example, Cardinal Timothy Dolan points out that Day lived a “far from sinless life” (ibid) referencing her alleged promiscuity and interest in communism.

So far, the research process into Day’s potential sainthood has cost $1 million. Some supporters of Day would like to see the canonization come to fruition, while others question if she would want the investigation to continue at all since she had expressed concern for spending church money on things such as canonization. Only with time (and money) will we see whether Day is granted sainthood or not.

Further Reading

References: Stack, L. (2022, January 21). Was Dorothy Day Too Left-Wing to be a Catholic Saint? The New York Times. Retrieved from
Print Friendly, PDF & Email