NEWS STORY: Vatican Agrees to Open Cause of Dorothy Day for Sainthood

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) _ The woman who said she never wanted to become a saint because she didn’t “want to be dismissed that easily” may eventually become one as the Vatican has agreed to open the case for sainthood for Dorothy Day.

Day died in 1980 at the age of 83 after living one of the most talked-about lives in the modern Roman Catholic Church. A left-leaning social activist who founded the Catholic Worker movement, Day has been called a modern saint for the Catholic church, even though she probably would not support the campaign and her family looks on in disbelief.

New York Cardinal John O’Connor, who has pushed for Day’s canonization since he was first installed as archbishop, welcomed the news and wrote in a Catholic newspaper on Thursday (March 16) that Day’s life is “a model for all in the third millennium.”

“It has long been my contention that Dorothy Day is a saint _ not a `gingerbread’ saint or a `holy card’ saint, but a modern day devoted daughter of the church,” O’Connor wrote in announcing the decision.

Day’s canonization _ which is still a long way off _ would not fit most molds for what makes a saint.

As a pacifist, anarchist and left-wing activist, Day led a quiet rebellion of sorts within the church to reach out to the poor, the needy and the desperate. Day surrounded herself with people who were outwardly hostile to the church, working and drinking with communists, socialists and left-wing authors.

In 1933, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper, which later became the voice of the Catholic Worker movement. During the Depression, Day set up a network of soup kitchens where people could come to eat and sleep. Day’s movement _ as well as her following _ has since spread nationwide.

Day resisted accolades and attempts to portray her work as anything but ordinary. When she was asked directly about becoming a saint, Day said, “Don’t trivialize me by trying to make me a saint.”

That humility is exactly why her supporters say Day should become a saint of the church.

“Her humility … her understanding … and her deep love for the saints of the church all combined to make her renounce any notion of personal sanctity as a means to make her something other than what she had always striven to be: a simple woman living in the gospel,” O’Connor wrote.

In addition, there are parts of Day’s life that some say clearly disqualify her from becoming a saint. Before she joined the church at age 30, Day had already had an abortion, divorced and had a child out of wedlock.

O’Connor said Day’s life after her conversion shows “that one may turn from the ultimate act of violence against innocent life in the womb to a position of total holiness and pacifism. In short, I contend that her abortion should not preclude her cause, but intensifies it.”

Now that the Vatican has officially opened the case on Day’s sainthood, she has been declared a “servant of God.” Supporters and Vatican officials will now examine her writings and speeches and compile a spiritual biography of Day.

Before Day can be beatified _ the penultimate step before canonization _ Day must be credited with at least one miracle. After being beatified, Day will need to be credited with an additional miracle before becoming St. Dorothy.

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the Vatican’s decision was a “blessed moment” for U.S. Catholics.

“Dorothy Day’s example is before us, encouraging us to be open to the strangers in our midst,” Fiorenza said. “She stands as someone to urge us onward when faced with any hesitancy about embracing the newcomer.”

If Day is named a saint, she would be the third American-born woman saint. The first, Elizabeth Ann Seton, died in 1821. Mother Katharine Drexel is scheduled to be canonized this year. A handful of other American saints are in consideration, but none has finished the canonization process yet.


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