GREEN BAY — When Pope Francis addressed Congress on Sept. 24 during his visit to the United States, many people were pleasantly surprised to hear him make reference to Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement who is remembered for her conversion to Catholicism and a lifetime devotion to the poor.
Among those thrilled to hear the pope describe before Congress Day’s “tireless work” for the poor were Fr. Joe Mattern, a retired priest from Omro, and David Mueller of Appleton. Fr. Mattern is director of Casa Esther Catholic Worker House in Omro and Mueller, who met Day while volunteering at the Maryhouse Catholic Worker community in New York City in 1976, has been active in promoting Day’s cause for canonization.
“Bringing her up before Congress was certainly unexpected,” Mueller told The Compass in an email.
Archdiocesan officials in New York provided Pope Francis “with some scripted remarks about Dorothy,” added Mueller. “We all assumed that her name would most likely come up at … Mass. But for him to name four Americans and include Dorothy as one of them — before Congress — was very, very significant.”
In his address to Congress, Pope Francis spoke about four Americans who have stood out as models of virtue today.
“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did; when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work; … and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton,” the pope said.
Fr. Mattern and Mueller, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Appleton, began promoting Dorothy Day’s sainthood cause in 2009. They organized first Friday Masses at Father Carr’s Place 2B, with special intentions offered for Day’s canonization. In 2010, they formed the Dorothy Day Canonization Support Network to invite groups, religious communities and other interested organizations to commit to a monthly day of prayer for Day’s cause.
Today, 52 groups, including 19 Catholic Worker houses, 12 Benedictine monasteries, 11 Benedictine Oblate Chapters and six Pax Christi Chapters, are praying for the cause, according to Mueller, support network coordinator.
Both men say Day’s conversion to Catholicism and service to the poor in New York City are hallmarks of her life which make her a worthy candidate for sainthood.
Fr. Mattern told The Compass that he has seen “a surge of interest” in Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement as a result of the pope’s remarks. He added that he is confident the pope’s words “will help to advance the cause of her eventual canonization.”
“She has the recognition as Servant of God, which is the first step on the path to canonization,” noted Fr. Mattern.
In his address to Congress, Pope Francis elaborated on Dorothy Day’s role in serving the poor.
“Her 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,” he said.
Mueller said he sees Pope Francis’ references to Day as a continuation of her support from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
“If you look back, the Holy See has recognized Dorothy’s sanctity for a long time,” he said. “Pope John Paul gave his approval to open the cause in 2000. Pope Benedict talked about Dorothy in his very last public address before stepping down.”
Mueller said his next step is to help raise additional funds for the Dorothy Day Guild based in New York. “A year ago, when the guild started up, after nine years of being dormant, I was invited to join the advisory board,” he said. “Our goal is to raise $50,000 from now through 2016.” Thanks to the awareness of Dorothy Day raised by Pope Francis, he said, “it should be easier to solicit donations now.”
To learn more about the support network, visit dorothydayasaint.org.