Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Katie Gordon on Dorothy Day’s response to crisis

Throughout the pandemic, I have found hope through the story of Dorothy Day. As many are aware, Day founded the Catholic Worker, a community that is fiercely committed to loving and serving the neighbor. What many don’t know is that Day was also a Benedictine Oblate.

A recently released documentary available online called “Revolution of the Heart” explores her story. In it, spiritual leaders Joan Chittister, Cornel West, and Jim Wallis talk about her life and legacy. As I watched the documentary with the Pax Priory, a group of Benedictine Sisters I live with in Erie, PA, I was struck by Dorothy Day’s tenacity and heart. Day sought to live in integrity with her faith and beliefs, and she went on to create a community around that commitment.

The community of the Catholic Worker, which opened in New York City after the Great Depression in the early 1930s, was a model that has inspired hundreds if not thousands of communities since. These communities are called Houses of Hospitality, and I can’t imagine a more Benedictine kind of community. Benedictinism is, after all, a commitment to being and practicing community… a natural outcome of which is hospitality for all seekers.

In this time of pandemic and quarantine, community and hospitality feels more important than ever – but also more impossible than ever, as we are asked to close our doors and stay in physical isolation from one another. But rather than asking what this moment is taking from us, I would rather ask: how is this time an opportunity for deeper formation to who we want to become? We are being shaped by this moment, individually and collectively. Crisis can be a fertile time of formation, as Dorothy Day’s own example shows us.

In Rebecca Solnit’s 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, she documents crises of the 20th century and not the pain that followed, but the solidarity that emerged. One of the stories that Solnit tells is of Dorothy Day, who experienced the 1906 Bay Area earthquake as an 8-year-old in Oakland.

The “social aftermath” of the crisis planted a seed in Day. Remembering the earthquake, she later wrote: “What I remember most plainly about the earthquake was the human warmth and kindliness of everyone afterward… While the crisis lasted, people loved each other.”

Then Solnit adds: “Day remembered this all her life, and she dedicated that long life to trying to realize and stabilize that love as a practical force in meeting the needs of the poor and making a more just and generous society.”

These were the seeds of the Catholic Worker, planted during Day’s own formation in crisis and coming together. Knowing it was possible, from seeing it after the earthquake, she started the Catholic Worker as a community that helped people love one another in times of crisis.

Katie Gordon is a staff member of Monasteries of the Heart and a national organizer with Nuns & Nones. Her work is focused on building bridges between traditions and generations, in an effort to translate ancient wisdom for contemporary seekers to respond to the greatest challenges of our own time. Katie is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, with a Master of Theological Studies in Religion, Politics, and Ethics.S he will be facilitating the upcoming eCourse, "What does it mean to be a Monastery of the Heart in our Time?"

What are we experiencing and witnessing today that is planting a seed in us?

How might this social, public health, and economic crisis inform communities of the future?

What does Benedictine hospitality look like in times like these?


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