Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, has been called “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism.” For almost fifty years, through her tireless service of the poor, and her courageous witness for peace, she offered an extraordinary example of the gospel in action. Now the publication of her selected letters— together with her recently published diaries, sealed for twenty-five years after her death in 1980—offers a uniquely intimate portrait of her daily struggles, hopes, and concerns. Like her diaries, the letters present a fascinating chronicle of her response to the vast changes in America, the church, and the wider world. Yet more than a reflection of her times, the letters open a window on the many and complex dimensions of her personality. Whether writing to lifelong friends and family members, spiritual companions like Thomas Merton and Catherine de Hueck, princes of the church, or fellow radicals, she saw her correspondents’ struggles, yearnings, and sufferings in relation to the universal human condition, and as part of a drama that linked this life and the life to come. Particularly revealing are the early letters from 1923-1932, the decade before the founding of the Catholic Worker, a time marked by Day’s conversion, the birth of her daughter Tamar, and her heart-wrenching separation from her “common-law husband,” Forster Batterham. The letters to Batterham, published for the first time, document the passionate depth of her love, and highlight in a new way the cost of her vocation. If her diaries showed Day’s capacity to find God in the everyday tasks and duties of life, her letters highlight the importance of relationships. More than simply the chronicle of a life, Day’s letters are an invitation to community and to an ongoing conversation.
Robert Ellsberg is the Publisher of Orbis Books. For five years (1975-1980) he was part of the Catholic Worker community in New York City, serving for two years as managing editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper. He has edited Dorothy Day: Selected Writings and has co-edited A Penny a Copy: Readings from The Catholic Worker. This volume is a companion to his previous volume, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, which won two First Place Book Awards from the Catholic Press Association. His own books include All Saints, The Saints’ Guide to Happiness, and Blessed Among All Women. He lives in Ossining, New York.
Correspondents Include: Forster Batterham • Daniel Berrigan • Ade Bethune • Cesar Chavez • Sidney Callahan • John Cogley • Catherine de Hueck • James Douglass • Fritz Eichenberg • William Everson • Jim Forest • Paul Hanley Furfy • Allen Ginsberg • Caroline Gordon • Ammon Hennacy • Tamar Hennessy • Helene Iswolsky • President John F. Kennedy • Clare Booth Luce • Peter Maurin • Cardinal James F. McIntyre • Claude McKay • Thomas Merton • Karl Meyer • Dom Virgil Michel • Katherine Anne Porter • President Franklin D. Roosevelt • Eunice Shriver • Cardinal Francis Spellman • Gordon Zahn • and many more.
“These wonderful letters (wonderful even in a merely human sense) can almost startle us with their revelation—natural, unpretentious, non-preachy— of what it means to be holy. Dorothy Day loved our Lord in the darkness of a real world, one where she met with distrust, betrayal, grinding poverty, and anxiety. These sorrows did not keep her from God. They drew her into His own redemptive suffering. There are no letters like these.” —Sister Wendy Beckett
“The publication of the letters of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, is a significant event in the history of Christian spirituality. Like her journals, these letters--by turns personal, frank, earthy, joyful, frustrated, contrite, hopeful, funny, and, above all, unmistakably human—will change the widely held belief that Dorothy was interested only in her ‘movement.’ Instead she is revealed as a woman deeply involved with her family, her friends, her church, her country and her world. Her love letters to her common-law husband, Forster, will also challenge the popular notion of sanctity, which sometimes equates ‘real’ holiness with a disinterested and disembodied love. Love is, in fact, the hidden theme of the letters of this astonishing woman: love for the poor, love for her fellow human beings, and love for God. Read these remarkable letters and come to know a saint. Study them and come to know what Christian action is about. Take them to heart and come to know God more fully.” —James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints.