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In the Mold of John the Baptist: Dorothy Day and the NY Catholic Worker

  "Whatever the substance--lead or papier-mâché--there was nothing to it. The figure was empty."

Here Joan Chittister is describing a John the Baptist statue in her grasp, this "gaunt wisp of a figure, arms thrown wide, head up and shouting to the sky.... Granite-like, it is the very model of an imposing personality, a presence to be reckoned with" (50). Thus pre-figuring her subject, Joan Chittister in The Time is Now moves on to set Dorothy Day saying, "We are called to be faithful not effective."

Dorothy witnessed, in the last years of her life, the city of Manhattan target "single room occupancy" hotels (SROs) for rehab and resale as luxury condominiums. According to Michael C.D. Macdonald, "Fifty thousand SRO units in 1975 shrank to 19,000 units by 1980, at which point the phrase 'street people' entered the media lexicon. The Bowery Men's Shelter and Catholic Worker outposts were overwhelmed. During the six days after Christmas in 1980, six men died of exposure on the streets." This was the filthy rotten system that Dorothy denounced, and prayed to convert, the shell of the old that the Christ rooms she sought to inspire and the anecdote of love, the fostering of community, which she implored at college campuses across the nation.

Bar Crawl Radio just aired an interview with the New York Catholic Worker.

"We're sitting in Dorothy Day's old room in Mary House."

"Would she recognize this neighborhood?" BCR asked.

"I doubt it" Joann Kennedy said. (50:14)

"Mary House and St. Joseph's House are valuable. I imagine they could be sold for a lot of money."

"We reject that kind of profiteering. The Catholic Worker paid for these properties. What they could be sold for now that feels like usurious, that's speculation on the real estate market. We're uncomfortable talking about profiting that shouldn't be used to profit. ...Also if we sold our properties to get millions of dollars, whoever would move in is not going to be a friend to the poor. That's our job..so there's an abandonment problem. Since the neighborhood still people who, in housing some, are poor. We still have line, we still have people who come."

"You and Witness Against Torture also protest and get arrested. 

"And Joann. Joann is part of it," Bud Courtney said. 

"Our society is broken in so many ways, Is the Catholic Worker making a long lasting impact?"

"That's not the goal of the Catholic Worker. I think Dorothy Day, who is not the Catholic Worker movement, she is in individual who made the Catholic worker, a corollary interest in her has arisen, but its an interest in her; it has to do with her canonization, and the Pope talked about her in Congress, she has enjoyed a national profile, which has had a national impact, we've seen that.

"While it's not the job of the Catholic Worker to promote her canonization, right, but just the idea that a single mother could be canonized a saint. If that's the worst thing that happens, that's a good thing."

"Did she not have an abortion also?" BCR asked (54: 14).

"That's right and then, who then had a child out of the church, in many ways by herself, and her life of holiness was centered in the Catholic Worker. In this way it has had a lasting impact.  What does it mean for a person to change their life? What does it mean to help a person to experience their humanity after being so degraded, that's what Catholic Workers do all over the place."

"Our hope is in each other," Joann said.

"To me its planting seeds" Bud Courtney said, "Nobody I've known doing this work is doing it for any real work other than there's a need, both internally and externally. When I give someone a bag of food and they smile...and we're giving them something they deserve. It's a bandaid, but we're planting seeds. When I tell people, students, go out and change the world; I say find something to make your little corner a better place. The revolution starts on first and third street and we're just adding coal. (57:

"Peter Maurin said, right, Everybody should have a Christ room," Joanne said. "We'd love to put ourselves out of business. In the meantime we'll be doing this

But while this is a mad mad world, isn't it a blessed beautiful gospel. As Joan Chittister tells us in The Time is Now, a new generation calls out racism that is "at our historical roots."

"The Western white" Chittister continues, "has enslaved blacks, dominated indigenous peoples, subjugated women, driven Muslims out of Catholic Spain, and persecuted Jews." But in the mold of John the Baptist, "generation after generation of prophetic people rose up century after century to speak a word of justice" (51).

-*-*-*-*

"As we like to say, 'a hard working woman', she would work hard sometimes in prostitution to support a drug habit. She came to the house and said to me, 'How did you get this great job?' I was like 'what the hell?' But she showed me in that moment I had a stable place to live, that I had found something I loved to do before I was thirty. I came to the Catholic Worker in 1997 and have been here ever since. 

"What is the work?"

"Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

"So you're here to afflict us right, because many of us are comfortable."

"Well, Your own comfort will be revealed and we will afflict you to the extent you need. (32:00)

-*-*-*-*-

"I as a Jewish man appreciate being included in this conversation because here is a mezuzah on the wall of Dorothy Day's bedroom." (57:47) ["And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of your house and on your gate. Deut. 6:9}

"We'll be going out with sound from your Band, the Filthy Rotten System, that's a quote of Dorthy's right, will you be playing anywhere soon?"

"On January 22 I will be playing at the United Nations. That's the day the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons goes into effect."


-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage. New York: Convergent, 2019.

Michael C.D. Macdonald, America's Cities: A Report on the Myth of Urban Renaissance. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984. 351.

Bar Crawl Radio. "Catholic Workers Helping Our Neighbors" <https://play.acast.com/s/bar-crawl-radio/catholic-workers-helping-our-neighbors> accessed March 12, 2021.

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