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What do saints do?

Dorothy Day in 1916

In May, 1912, the St. Gertrude parish, where I am now a member, was just five months old, and Sunday mass was being celebrated in a temporary wood-and-steel structure on the site of the present rectory.

Six miles to the south, a 15-year-old girl, living on Webster Street one block from Lincoln Park, fell in love for the first time. Her name was Dorothy Day.

I love the idea of a saint who falls in love — falls in love over and over again throughout her teens and young adulthood. A saint who made mistakes like the rest of us, some of them soul-shattering, such as submitting to an abortion, a decision she regretted the rest of her life.

I also like it that Dorothy was a journalist and that, although she’s identified with New York City, she lived in Chicago from 1906-14 and, later, in her twenties, from 1921-23. During that second sojourn, she worked at City News Bureau where I worked half a century later.

Dorothy — who started the Catholic Worker movement, edited the Catholic Worker newspaper, ran a “house of hospitality” in the New York slums and went to jail in protests on behalf of the poor and against war — was called “the first hippie” by Abbie Hoffman.

Although proposed for sainthood by the Catholic magazine Salt in 1983, three years after her death, and several times later by New York Cardinal John O’Connor, it wasn’t until 2000 that church officials began to consider her case. (In contrast, Pope John Paul II was beatified last year, just six years after his death, and even has his own feast day, Oct. 22.)

Dorothy was acerbic and quick to anger, and her biographer Jim Forest calls her “saint and troublemaker.”

But, if you look closely, doesn’t that really describe what saints do — make trouble?

Patrick T. Reardon
10.23.12

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