Catholic Worker cooks have to be creative in the kitchen. They prepare large meals on small budgets and donated food items. Mystery soup is a regular specialty. My habit was to perform “veggie triage” on every lonely vegetable from the fridge, add spices, and create savory stir-fries. It is reported that Dorothy Day drew the line on creative cooking, however, the day a volunteer put onions in the fruit salad.
Making a meal from random ingredients is only one essential Catholic Worker skill. But finding a place for seemingly mismatched people, things, and ideas is a hallmark of Dorothy Day’s life and legacy. In her early years, Day struggled with how to reconcile her social activism with her blossoming Catholic faith. Her activist and Catholic role models seemed worlds apart. When she met Peter Maurin, a French-born Catholic philosopher, she came to understand how her worlds could be united. The Catholic Worker movement was born.
Dorothy Day’s writings and her activism are often called “radical.” She supported labor movements, staunchly opposed war, and ran houses of hospitality for the poor on a wing and a prayer. Let us remember, however, that “radical” means going to the root.
When I was in college, Catholic Workers from Worcester, MA, drew me to the movement. They taught me that the root of opposition to abortion should be respecting and supporting life in all stages. This consistent life ethic, although not created by Catholic Workers, is another example of uniting issues in a way that many consider nonsensical in our society.
For Day and Maurin, Catholic radicalism was simply a call for every person to take up the Works of Mercy and follow Jesus’ instruction to do to the least what we would do to him. Pope Francis, in his address to the United States Congress in September 2015, recognized that Day’s “social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”
While I still remember how to “triage” vegetables, these days you will find me balancing the demands of Religious Education Coordinator at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Washington, DC. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the 4th grade about Dorothy Day. Their faith and curiosities are a joy. We had fun trying out the Catholic Worker skill of creating beautiful things from random donations. Using paper squares to represent donated, mismatched tiles, students created floor designs for their pretend Catholic Worker kitchens.
Dorothy Day’s cause for sainthood has been approved by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops. As we remember her today, the anniversary of her birth, let us ask how we can find more room in our lives for seemingly misfit people, things, and ideas in the name of Jesus and the good news of the Gospel. Following Dorothy’s good sense…skip the onions in the fruit salad!
Cinnamon Sarver has theology degrees from Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. She has worked in Catholic education for many years and is available to host seminars on Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, the Eucharist, and other topics in Catholic Social Teaching.
 As reported by Jim Forest, cited in http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2011/day-biography-offers-insights-into-life-of-catholic-worker-co-founder.cfm