In 1996, when the Reverend Fr. William J. Bausch retired from St. Marys Parish in Colts Neck– a small town about 12 miles inland from the Jersey Shore — he gifted his congregation with a statue of Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day (1897–1980) was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a writer, activist, pacifist and tireless advocate for the poor. The accompanying plaque is a book review written by the mystic Catholic monk Thomas Merton:
Every American Church should read Dorothy Day’s Loaves and Fishes, because it exposes the comfortable myth that we have practically solved the “problem of poverty” in our affluent society. Poverty . . is a greater problem than it ever was . . . but poverty, for Dorothy Day, is worse than a sociological problem. It is also a religious mystery, and that is what gives this book its extraordinary grace, and gentleness, and charm. . . This is a serious book about matters of life and death, not only for a few people, but for everybody.
Yet Dorothy Day never preaches, never pounds the table: she remarks quietly on the things she has seen, she points out their awful and well as their beautiful implications.
It is a great pity that there are not many more like Dorothy Day among the millions of American Catholics. There are never enough of such people, somehow, in the church. But without a few like her, one may well begin to wonder if we are still Christians. Her presence is in some ways a comfort, and in some ways a reproach. But I hope that those who read her book will be moved by it to serious thought and to some practical action: it is a credit to American Democracy and to American Catholicism.
In 2015 I gave a short talk about Dorothy Day: Peacemakers at a Dorothy Day Conference at Our Lady of the Lake University. You can read it here.