Local Catholics spearhead Dorothy Day prayer network

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | February 27, 2014

Priest, layman promote Day’s sainthood cause

GREEN BAY — “U.S. bishops endorse sainthood cause of Dorothy Day.”

The headline appearing in Catholic publications around the country in November 2012, following the bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore, was a welcome jolt to the canonization efforts begun in 2000 by the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York.

Fr. Joe Mattern and David Mueller, founders of the Dorothy Day Canonization Support Network, are inviting religious communities and other groups to join their efforts in praying for Dorothy Day’s sainthood cause. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)
Fr. Joe Mattern and David Mueller, founders of the Dorothy Day Canonization Support Network, are inviting religious communities and other groups to join their efforts in praying for Dorothy Day’s sainthood cause. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)

But since that unanimous vote of endorsement, silence has fallen on the sainthood cause of Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement who is remembered for her conversion to Catholicism and a lifetime devotion to the poor.

But don’t confuse the silence with inactivity. Instead, the calm coincides with a growing national prayer movement for Day’s cause that has its roots in Oshkosh.

In 2009, Fr. Joe Mattern, a retired priest of the Green Bay Diocese, and Dave Mueller, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Appleton, decided to promote Dorothy Day’s sainthood cause. They began by organizing first Friday Masses at Father Carr’s Place 2B, with special intentions offered for Day’s canonization.

Canonization network launched

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. By last October they had at least one group praying every day of the year.

Today, 48 groups, including 17 Catholic Worker houses, 12 Benedictine monasteries and abbeys, and five Pax Christi chapters, are praying for the cause. Mueller, support network coordinator, said they are looking for more groups.

Fr. Mattern and Mueller have a special devotion to Day and the movement she co-founded in the 1930s. Her conversion to Catholicism and service to the poor in New York City are hallmarks of Day’s life which make her a worthy candidate for sainthood, the two men told The Compass.

Dorothy Day’s story

Day was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 8, 1897. Her parents, Grace and John Day, moved to San Francisco and later to Chicago, where Dorothy was baptized in the Episcopal Church.

While attending the University of Illinois at Urbana, Day became interested in social justice issues. She dropped out of college in 1916 and moved to New York City, where she became a journalist at socialist newspapers. At the same time, she drifted away from her Christian faith.

Love affairs, a failed marriage, a suicide attempt and an abortion were all part of Day’s early years.

Dorothy Day is pictured with her daughter Tamar in 1932. Co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and candidate for sainthood, Day was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1897, and died at the Catholic Worker's Maryhouse in New York in 1980. She was a self-proclaimed anarchist, a crusader of Catholic social teaching in aiding the poor and mentally ill people, a strict pacifist and a labor union supporter. (CNS photo | courtesy of Marquette University archives)
Dorothy Day is pictured with her daughter Tamar in 1932. Co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and candidate for sainthood, Day was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1897, and died at the Catholic Worker’s Maryhouse in New York in 1980. She was a self-proclaimed anarchist, a crusader of Catholic social teaching in aiding the poor and mentally ill people, a strict pacifist and a labor union supporter. (CNS photo | courtesy of Marquette University archives)

Before the birth of her daughter, Tamar, in 1926, Day became impressed by the Catholic Church’s outreach to the poor. She and Tamar were baptized in 1926, which ended her common-law marriage to Forster Battingham.

Day met French immigrant Peter Maurin in 1933 and they launched The Catholic Worker newspaper to promote Catholic social teaching. They also began a movement with the same name, establishing houses of hospitality.

Over the years, Day supported anti-war causes and the civil rights movement. She joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in 1973 to protest discrimination by the Teamsters Union against migrant workers. Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, at Maryhouse in New York.

Cardinal begins sainthood process

After Cardinal O’Connor announced the official cause for Day’s sainthood, the Dorothy Day Guild was created to investigate her life and works and Day was given the title “servant of God.”

The next step would be for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints to recommend to the pope that Day be declared “venerable.” Two final stages, beatification and canonization, would both require a miracle attributed to Day.

The Dorothy Day Guild, now led by Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo, chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York, is investigating medical healings.

George Horton, a board member of the Dorothy Day Guild, said the guild has received claims of prayers answered through Day’s intercession but “not anything that’s concrete.”

“We have had people who have sent us notices about prayers answered, but we have done nothing to follow up on these,” said Horton, director of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities Social and Community Development Department. “I would say we’ve had prayers answered on a variety of different things, but that’s about all I can say at this point.”

Devotion to Dorothy Day

Knowing that a long road is still ahead for the sainthood cause, Fr. Mattern and Mueller are doing what they can to bring attention to it.

“I’ve been a follower of Dorothy Day all of my priestly life,” said Fr. Mattern. His passion for the poor and the Catholic Worker movement led Fr. Mattern to establish the Diocese of Green Bay’s first and only Catholic Worker house, Casa Esther, in Omro.

Mueller’s connection with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement is more personal.

In 1976, he spent his summer break from college volunteering at the Maryhouse Catholic Worker community in New York City. By chance, Mueller said he was able to meet and share “a couple of long conversations” with Dorothy Day.

“By that time, she had slowed down because of her age and was a little bit reclusive,” he said. Mueller said he was drawn to Day’s eyes.

“She … had these bright blue eyes. If you looked into her eyes, it looked like the eyes of a 10-year-old,” he said. “They say the eyes are the window to a soul and her eyes were so alive and curious about learning new things and getting to know other people.”

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, spent her adult life as an advocate for the poor and the rights of workers. The U.S. bishops voted Nov. 13 on a canonical step for her canonization cause. (CNS photo | Milwaukee Journal, courtesy of Marquette University archives)
Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, spent her adult life as an advocate for the poor and the rights of workers. (CNS photo | Milwaukee Journal, courtesy of Marquette University archives)

Network’s core committee

When Fr. Mattern and Mueller launched the Dorothy Day support network in 2010, they invited others to join their core committee. The other members include:

  • Deacon Michael and Annette Cullen, members of the Diocese of Superior. The Cullens started Milwaukee’s Casa Maria Catholic Worker House in 1966.
  • Anne Klejment, professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and co-editor of a volume of essays detailing Day’s influence on the American Catholic peace movement.
  • Rosalie Riegle, co-founder of two Catholic Worker houses in Michigan and author of two books on Day.
  • Fr. David Smith, founding director of the justice and peace studies program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
  • Bob Waldrop, founder of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Mueller said the committee is united in the belief that the most effective way for future generations to be inspired by Dorothy Day’s life and values is canonization.

Cardinal Dolan supports efforts

Among the supporters of Day’s Canonization Support Network is Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Mueller wrote to Cardinal Dolan last October to let him know about the group’s prayer calendar.

Cardinal Dolan responded that he was delighted to learn about the prayer network. “Every time I hear Pope Francis speak about war and peace, the preferential option for the poor, and the need to love those who feel rejected by others, I think of Dorothy Day,” Cardinal Dolan wrote.

Mueller said the support network also connected with the Benedictines of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Ill. He learned that Day joined that community as a secular Oblate, professing her vows on April 26, 1955.

Benedictines pray for Day’s cause

Every Wednesday following supper, the monks at St. Procopius Abbey pray for Day’s cause.

A copy of Dorothy Day's certificates as a secular Oblate of St. Benedict.
A copy of Dorothy Day’s certificate as a secular Oblate of St. Benedict.

“For us it’s just a bit exciting, a great honor to have someone affiliated with the monastery as a servant of God and to be praying for her canonization,” said Abbot Austin Murphy. “She’s a blessing for our community.”

Abbot Murphy said people are often surprised to learn that Day was affiliated with St. Procopius Abbey. “The word has gotten out a little bit with our joining (the support network) and praying for her canonization,” he said. “The monks knew, but friends of the monastery, even the Catholic Worker movement, didn’t know.”

The support network, along with the Dorothy Day Guild, is interested in learning about medical healings that can be attributed to Day’s intercession. These medical miracles are a crucial part of the sainthood process.

Medical healings reported

The Houston Catholic Worker has reported two medical healings attributed to Day.

One involves Sarah Maple of Antlerville, Okla., who was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer in 2009 and cured after prayers to Dorothy Day. Maple shared her story on the Houston Catholic Worker website. “To me, my healing is a miracle from Dorothy Day,” wrote Maple.

Another possible healing involved Paul Bossie, the brother of a Chicago priest, Sacred Heart Fr. Bob Bossie. He suffered from a heel-bone infection and refused a biopsy and foot amputation. Fr. Bossie said he prayed to God through Dorothy Day for his brother’s intercession and he recovered.

Horton, of the Dorothy Day Guild, said he was unaware of these reports and acknowledged that the process of studying medical healings has been slow.

 Conference on Dorothy Day

“We, I believe, are taking baby steps. We need to take bigger ones, but we are trying to get the resources to move forward,” Horton said. The guild is set to unveil a redesigned website, http://dorothydayguild.org, soon, and a major conference on Dorothy Day is slated for March 7 and 8 at the University of St. Thomas in Miami, Fla.

Titled “Dorothy Day: A Saint for our Time,” the conference will bring together scholars as well as many who worked closely with Dorothy Day.

“The conference hopes to explore all aspects of (Day’s) life which have brought her to the threshold of sainthood,” said Mueller, who, along with Fr. Mattern, will attend the conference.

Prayer groups wanted

The Dorothy Day Canonization Support Network invites other groups and religious communities to join its prayer network. To learn more contact David Mueller, [email protected], or visit the network website, dorothydayasaint.org.

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