Dorothy’s Days

Letters from a Saint

Thirty years after her death, Dorothy Day remains “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism.” I made that claim in 1980 and I am not alone in my admiration. Garry Wills called her “the Saint of Mott Street,” a title she would not have liked. She worried that saint talk would end up trivializing the Catholic Worker message of revolutionary discipleship.

Theologian Lawrence S. Cunningham, who knows about such matters, ranks Day with Thomas Merton among our most impressive American spiritual guides. New York archbishops have backed her canonization. Once considered a radical for her pacifism and uncompromising advocacy on behalf of the poor and workers, Day is now claimed as an inspiration by Catholics of all parties.

The movement to canonize Day may well receive a boost from the 2008 publication of her diaries (The Duty of Delight) and now her letters (All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, Marquette University Press, $35, 480 pp.). She asked that these texts remain closed until twenty-five years after her death. When that time came, Ellsberg, a friend of Day’s and former editor of the Catholic Worker paper, took on the task of editing selections for...

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About the Author

David J. O’Brien is University Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of Dayton.