This month has me thinking of love in all of its many forms in our lives, spurring me to discuss a woman connected to Tottenville who I never had the privilege of knowing personally, but have come to know rather well through people who knew her, and from her writings.
Dorothy Day was born on November 8, 1897. Until her death on November 29, 1980, she impacted so many lives with love, and after her death continues to do so. Her legacy continues.
On June 10, 1997, as a new freelance reporter for the Staten Island Register newspaper, I wrote an article, “Spanish Camp residents shaken by sale of land.”
The next week I wrote, “Dorothy Day had deep affection for Spanish Camp.”
I had no way of knowing at the time what this assignment from then News Editor Bill Franz was to do to my life. I wrote about Spanish Camp for the weekly newspaper for over 3 years, following the difficult story where real estate investors won out over middle class families. Along the way, Dorothy kept touching my life.
I went to the sixth annual Dorothy Day pilgrimage held by Pax Christi, Staten Island on Sunday, June 29, 1997. We visited several significant sites.
We saw the bungalow, and its outhouse at Spanish Camp, where she was able to come back to the beach of Staten Island in the seventies, calling it her oasis. This picture shows Dorothy at the bungalow in Spanish Camp.
We made a stop at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, my own parish in Tottenville, seeing the baptismal record where Dorothy had her daughter Tamar baptized, and where Dorothy was accepted into the Catholic Church. She is currently being considered for sainthood, and as she did in her life, brings extra blessings to Tottenville, and to all the places with which she was connected.
We prayed at her grave at Resurrection Cemetery.
On November 25, 1997 I wrote a commentary for the Register, “The legacy of Dorothy Day,”sharing my attendance at the Catholic Center at New York University in Manhattan for a symposium to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Dorothy’s birth.
“Somehow, I keep being pulled to Dorothy Day. I originally attended to see if there was a news story related to Spanish Camp. Instead, I found something more compelling, more personal, that just didn’t fit into news format. Although we never met, Dorothy has touched my soul.”
I wrote of Patricia Rusk, Dorothy’s long time secretary who still lived at Spanish Camp at the time, giving me her personal copy with notes on Dorothy’s writings, By Little and By Little. One note under the title shows Pat’s comment, “The Passion of Dorothy Day.”
I shared Robert Ellsberg’s introduction to the book:
“She wrote to give reason for a marriage of convictions that was a scandal and stumbling block to many: radical politics and traditional, conservative theology. Yet it was not what Dorothy Day wrote that was extraordinary, nor even what she believed, but the fact that there was absolutely no distinction between what she believed,what she wrote and the manner in which she lived.”
Let me end with Dorothy’s own words on love, written On Pilgrimage in 1948, from By Little and By Little that is as relevant today as when she wrote them.
“Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: What else is the world interested in? What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love. Love casts out fear.”
Read more about and by Dorothy Day
Biographical Essay on Dorothy Day By Angie Mangino
“Dorothy In Love,” an article in America Magazine, by ROBERTELLSBERG | NOVEMBER 15, 2010