Radical Revolutionary. One with the workers. Daily works of mercy. One who challenged the status quo. She never wanted to be called a saint, though the Claretian Missionaries proposed that she be canonized in 1983. The Catholic Church calls her a “Servant of God.” I call her a Holy Woman Icon. She joins the myriad other Holy Woman Icons with a folk feminist twist that I feature each month: Virginia Woolf , the Shulamite, Mary Daly, Baby Suggs, Pachamama and Gaia, Frida Kahlo, Salome, Guadalupe and Mary, Fatima, Sojourner Truth, Saraswati, Jarena Lee, Isadora Duncan, Miriam, Lilith, Georgia O’Keeffe, Guanyin.
Born on November 8, 1897 Dorothy Day’s radical spirit, her development of the Catholic Worker Movement, and her solidarity with the poor have taught countless women what it means to be a revolutionary. This American anarchist and activist converted to Catholicism as an adult after living what many describe as a bohemian lifestyle. She advocated the Catholic economic theory of distributism, daily works of mercy, pacifism, and solidarity with the poor.
She began her career as a journalist, writing for Socialist publications, such as The Liberator, The Masses, and The Call. She was rumored to say to other Socialists that she was “a pacifist even in the class war.” Her radical stances on workers’ rights and class warfare combined with progressive Catholic social teaching when she joined with Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement. The Catholic Worker Movement began with the publication of the Catholic Worker in 1933, admonishing progressive Catholic social teachings in the midst of the Great Depression and a pacifist position in the midst of war. The publication expanded to include houses of hospitality in the slums of New York City. These hospitality houses flourish all over the world today as intentional communities—urban and farm—where people live together communally, providing direct aid for the poor and homeless, while also advocating for nonviolent action on their behalf.
Throughout her life Day was arrested numerous times for civil disobedience, always standing in solidarity with poor workers, sometimes participating in hunger strikes until justice was given. By the 1960s she was called the first hippie and a few years before her death in 1980 she joined Cesar Chavez in California to support his work to provide justice for farm laborers. She was arrested with the other protestors, and at the age of 75 spent ten days in jail.
As it did in life, Dorothy Day’s heart takes center stage on the canvas. She is surrounded by nary an embellishment, living and loving simply and truly, her heart cryies out to us:
Radically authentic, she
Poured out her heart on
Behalf of the least of these—
The poor became her family, Her faith,
Radical Revolutionary. One with the workers. Daily works of mercy. One who challenged the status quo. These are all attributes I strive toward as a feminist. So, it’s no surprise that on October 20 at 9:44 am when a new life entered into our world, my partner and I chose to include the middle name “Day” on the birth certificate. Now there is one more squirmy, healthy, radical revolutionary in the world, weighing in at a robust 8 pounds and 6 ounces, with two mommies who are grateful for one brave woman who taught us what it means to offer mercy. Thank you, Dorothy Day. You may not be a saint, but you’ve certainly made our lives a bit more holy.
Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber has a PhD in Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley and is author of Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions, The Gendered Pulpit: Sex, Body, and Desire in Preaching and Worship and Dance in Scripture: How Biblical Dancers can Revolutionize Worship Today. She has been a clergywoman and professional dancer and artist since 1999. For more on her research, ministry, dance, or to purchase one of her icons, visit: www.angelayarber.com