Staten Island activist Dorothy Day honored at special mass commemorating her 125th birthday

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STATEN ISLAND, NY — Social activist Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper, was celebrated Friday night during a mass at Our Lady Help of Christians RC Church, Tottenville, commemorating what would have been her 125th birthday.

Day was a journalist and single mother who led a life of social activism. Day made the decision to be baptized into the Catholic Church, and in doing so she was alienated by her more radical peers who shunned her beliefs. However, Day continued to search for a way to work for social change while remaining true to her faith. His response came in the form of his collaboration with French activist Peter Maurin. Their joint efforts paved the way for the first Catholic Worker newspaper, which was published on May 1, 1933.

The newspaper encouraged a culture of simple living and solidarity with the less fortunate. The Catholic labor movement would manifest itself in community houses and farms intended to serve the needy. Currently, there are over 200 of these homes around the world, many of which are in New York City. This work would go on to attract the attention of the Catholic Church, which considers her holy.

— A stained glass window depicting Dorothy Day can be seen inside Our Lady Help of Christians Church, as seen on Nov. 11, 2022 (Staten Island Advance/Luke Peteley)(Staten Island Advance/Luke Pete

The dark, damp night stood in stark contrast to the warm and welcoming Mass taking place at the parish where Day was baptized. True to the Catholic Worker movement, clothing donations were accepted for asylum seekers in need. Bishop Peter Byrne and Bishop John O’Hara celebrated the traditional Mass which was attended by over 60 parishioners. After the gospel reading, participants listened reverently to a homily that touched on the devotion of the day.

“She was an activist in many ways, but what was really significant about her…was her inner life. A life in which God was deep,” Bishop Byrne said. “Dorothy Day was not not a progressive. What she was was radical. Big difference in the sense that his devotion, his attachment to the apostolic faith, was the key.

At the end of the mass, the guests of honor were thanked for their presence. Among those lining the pews were Day’s granddaughter, Martha Hennessy; Day’s longtime chaplain, Geoffrey Gneuhs; members of the Dorothy Day Guild; friends of Day, and some of the board members involved in the new SI Catholic Worker.

The quarterly newsletter hopes to continue Day’s mission and provide for the poor on Staten Island.

After parishioners were briefed on the status of the bulletin, they were invited to the nearby gymnasium for refreshments.

“The most meaningful way to participate in this vision is to create community,” said Deborah Sucich, co-founder of SI Catholic Worker. “In Dorothy’s own words…we can only love God if we love one another.

The mass followed on the heels of a new ferry recently commissioned in his name.

“What an honor to have a ferry named after him,” Day’s granddaughter said. “She loved it, she went through it so many times…I think it’s a happy thing. People can see her name and learn about her, study her, read her writings and learn about her. more about her incredible Catholic faith and how she applied it in her life.

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