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Faith and Helping Others as Dorothy Day's Two Loves: Critical Essay

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Dorothy Day was a writer and activist who later in life converted to Catholicism. She enjoyed helping people and bringing faith into the lives of others. According to Dorothy, faith was the most important thing for a human being to have, and it is what gives life purpose. She had a strong belief that one can't obtain the 'richness of life' without some form of faith. One aspect of faith that was crucial to her beliefs and her life was 'fides qua creditur', meaning the faith that one believes. The faith she believed was the act of helping others, which she was able to achieve through God, whom through her life she came to know. What Dorothy believed and achieved in her life was important. Her journey before becoming Catholic led her and allowed her to come to know God, and when she converted, she was able to turn to Him and understand Him in a way that made her feel complete. Once she converted, her love for her faith led her to start the Catholic Worker Reform, which created communities consisting of Catholic people and families that allowed for faith to be shared. For Dorothy, faith was a journey, and for most of her life wasn't labeled under some form of religion, it was personal to herself, her beliefs, and her love for God. However, when she did convert to Catholicism, her faith only strengthened. It allowed her to continue her desire to help others in need and brought them together in a community of loving God and others.

Dorothy Day was born in New York in 1897 and was raised by two Christian parents. As a child, religion wasn't often discussed; however, Dorothy always had a fascination with God. At a young age, she had an interest in praying, church, and would often read the Bible. This spiritual love would later in life turn into a devotion to Catholicism. Dorothy was an activist for social justice, and during the times before she converted, would participate in different movements such as the women's suffrage movement. She fought at the White House with many other women for the right for women to vote, and would later be arrested and spend time in jail. This shows her devotion to fighting for what she believes is right. She attended the University of Illinois, but later dropped out to pursue a new life in New York City. She started off working for a daily newspaper, the New York Call. When Day was older, she met a man named Forster, and together they would start a life together and have a child. When she gave birth to her daughter, Tamar Teresa, she felt that she needed for her to be baptized and Catholic because for Dorothy faith was necessary to live a joyful life. Forster was not a very religious man and did not agree with the idea of their daughter being baptized; however, he never spoke up about it to Dorothy. He knew that is what Dorothy had wanted for Tamar, and that once it happened, his relationship with his family would be ruined. Her passion for faith was so strong it led her to a broken relationship with Forster, whom she loved dearly.

The chapter ‘Love Overflows’ in Dorothy Day's autobiography talks about her relationship with her partner, converting, and how much of an effect they had on one another. Even before Dorothy was a Catholic, she loved God and felt that she needed God in a more prominent role in her life after she gave birth. She felt that throughout her life, she was learning more and more about God, and shortly before she converted, she said: “I came to know God”. Throughout the chapter, it seems as though Dorothy is so devoted to God, reading a lot of religious texts and learning many prayers, yet at that point she still wasn't even Catholic. I feel as though Dorothy loved her partner Forster so much that she was avoiding conversion because she did not want to leave him just yet. Their relationship at this point was very broken because Forster knew of her intent of their daughter to be baptized. He would leave often, and they wouldn't speak all that much. After Tamar's baptism, he did not partake in any of the festivities and left for several days. What saddened Dorothy the most was how Forster loved their daughter so much and that being Catholic would divide their relationship. Even as they drifted apart, Dorothy loved him and knew that her conversion would solidify their split and would leave her and Tamar to be alone, which is something she had feared. In this chapter, it seems that in Dorothy's life, faith has been such a journey and that God was always present in her life, whether or not it was categorized under some form of religion. However, when she did finally convert, her faith was complete.

Dorothy's conversion would lead her to Peter Maurin, a dear friend and devoted Catholic, and together, they would start the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy's first impression of Maurin was that he was “a short, stocky man in his mid-fifties, as ragged and rugged as any of the marchers I had left”. To Dorothy, Peter certainly looked like an underprivileged worker. During this time, she felt complete because with the help of Maurin, her two loves were brought together, faith and the poor. Dorothy always had a passion for helping people in need and fighting for what is right. She even participated in a hunger strike when she was incarcerated. This love for helping others only strengthened when she converted. Being Catholic allowed her to start the Catholic Worker Movement, which was devoted to helping the poor and using faith and Catholic ideals to bring them together. The two things Dorothy dedicated her life too were able to be brought together into one large movement that helped the lives of many. This merge between her two loves made her feel complete. Without her conversion, Dorothy would have never met Peter, and the Catholic Worker Movement would not exist. Her faith led her to this creation and allowed for it to prosper in the way that it did. Catholicism brought everything that Dorothy could have dreamed of into reality and gave her life purpose.

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Community is the foundation for religion and allows people to hear other views and understand God through the help of others with the same beliefs. In Dorothy's autobiography, she states: “My whole make-up, led me to want to associate myself with others, with the masses, in loving and praising God”. Dorothy's faith led her to want to start a community of her own where the poor can get help, faith, and their love for God can be shared. Loving God and loving your neighbor was central to Dorothy's faith. The Catholic Worker Movement allowed her faith to strengthen, and it powered her spirituality and drive for helping others. Her love for helping others was so strong that she credited her conversion to the poor.

The Catholic Worker Movement aimed to bring charity to others in the way Jesus Christ did. That being said, Dorothy Day's faith incorporated the idea of Incarnation. Incarnation is when God or Logos ‘became flesh’. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he was devoted to helping others. His devotion to others was expressed when he was crucified for his faith. Like Jesus, Dorothy too devoted her life to helping others in need, as seen through her creation of the Catholic Worker Movement. Jesus was sent to spread the word of God and left an impact that led to the creation of many known religions today who share a love for God, Catholicism being one of them. Similarly, Dorothy wanted to enlighten people about God and bring faith into their lives because of the joy she knew it would create. Both Dorothy and Jesus were heavily criticized for their work, but in the end, both knew the happiness faith would bring to people's lives.

Dorothy's life also incorporates the idea of the 'foolishness of preaching'. The foolishness of preaching refers to God's unconditional, self-emptying love toward creation. Dorothy lived for God and for others. She loved others and God without thinking about herself, because she knew helping others helped her become closer to him. Dorothy felt she knew him and because of this she had unconditional love towards others the way God did.

Dorothy Day was a wonderful woman who brought light into many people's lives. Once she converted to Catholicism, her faith got stronger and allowed her to help others in ways she wasn't able to before. When Dorothy converted, she was able to enrich the lives of others, as well as her own. It helped her create new movements and have a stronger care for others, which she always had. Her newfound faith guided her through life, gave her strength, and enlightened her. This allowed her to enlighten others and create communities encompassing faith and God's love.

Works Cited

  1. Klejment, Anne. The Spirituality of Dorothy Day’s Pacifism. Vol. 27, Catholic University of America Press, 2009.
  2. Krupa, Stephen. Celebrating Dorothy Day: Dorothy Day Continues to Represent the Radical Conscience of American Catholicism. Vol. 185, America Press Inc., 2001.
  3. Day, Dorothy. The Long Loneliness. Harper &. Brothers, 1952.
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Faith and Helping Others as Dorothy Day’s Two Loves: Critical Essay. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from
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