Between the Lines

In a brief letter to the editors (November 3, 1939) commending Commonweal on the occasion of its fifteenth anniversary, Dorothy Day wrote that Catholic Worker cofounder Peter Maurin "always says that it is the duty of the journalist to make history as well as record it." By Maurin’s standard, few journalists accomplished as much as Day herself. Fifty years after Commonweal printed an excerpt from her then forthcoming autobiography, The Long Loneliness ("The Story of Steve Hergenhan," January 11, 1952), Day remains one of the most unusual journalists in the history of American Catholicism: she made-and is still making-history.

I first read The Long Loneliness after coming to the Catholic Worker in New York and meeting Dorothy Day. Rereading it once again, I am struck at how quintessentially Day it is, in both substance and style. There are the cadences, the stories, the pointed references, the setting-matters-straight. There are her repetitiveness, her irony and complexity (early on, she quotes Chesterton on tradition, and in so doing lays the groundwork for her understanding of Christian anarchism; later in the book she quotes the agnostic William James to argue for a rediscovery of the religious value of voluntary poverty). There are Day’s purposeful ambiguity-to protect her privacy and that of others-coupled with remarkable self-revelations; her keen, invigorating descriptiveness; layers of self-deprecating...

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About the Author

Patrick Jordan is a former managing editor of Commonweal.