Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day; drawing by David Levine

Volume One, Number One of the Catholic Worker hit Union Square on May Day, 1933, with an ambiguous thud. The Marxian natives couldn’t classify this political chimera: its forequarters were anarchistic but its hinder parts were attached to the Church of Rome, whose American hierarchy then stood slightly to the right of Herbert Hoover. One editor, Dorothy Day, was known as a writer for the socialist Call and the old Masses and a friend of radicals like Hugo Gellert, Maurice Becker, and Mike Gold (to whom she was engaged for a year). But the other editor was a mystery: Fourteenth Street cafeteria savants who could distinguish at the drop of a coffee spoon between Manuilsky and Mayakovsky, Dan and Denikin, Malenkov, Martov, Miliukov, Muralov, and Muranov were stumped by Maurin (Peter).

Their conclusion, reasonable enough from their premises, was that the Catholic Worker was either a Trojan horse rigged up by the Vatican to betray the oft-betrayed proletariat or, more charitably, an “adventure” by confused idealists (the noun was as bad as the adjective that invariably accompanied it) who would be forced by the logic of Historical Materialism, the Class Struggle, and the Marxian Dialectic to choose between radicalism and Catholicism. The very name was a contradiction: Catholic Worker?

They were, however, as sometimes happened, wrong. Unless the Vatican’s machinations are subtler, and more long-range, than I can grasp, the Catholic Worker has not been a Trojan horse. Nor has the contradiction between its radicalism and its Catholicism been resolved. Both still get equal space. A chimera perhaps, in Marxist taxonomy—but also a phoenix.

Among the leftist periodicals of my time, the Catholic Worker is unique in combining longevity with consistency. Partisan Review, Methuselah of little mags, is almost as old (b. 1934) but it has gone through some drastic changes, beginning as the organ of the John Reed Clubs, the literary front of the CPUSA; revived in 1938 as an anti-Stalinist revolutionary-socialist monthly, etc. My own Politics was always radical but the meaning of that term changed—radically—in a mere five years of existence.

Dorothy Day’s Worker has stuck to the same general line for almost forty years, and a good thing too, because it’s still, as we say now, relevant. Had I been sophisticated enough to know what they were talking about. I would probably have agreed with the 1933 Marxian ideologues that the Maurin-Day combination of Catholic piety and anarcho-pacifism was a discrepant mixture that couldn’t last. The difference between us is I don’t mind being proved wrong by events in such prophecies. I welcome the viability of the Catholic Workers as one of those frequent, indeed chronic, irruptions of the unexpected that shows history is not a well-trained valet to any system of ideas but a chancy affair. One of those surprises that make life life.

The thirty-sixth anniversary issue of the Catholic Worker—May, 1969, Vol. XXXVII, No. 1—looks, reads, and costs the same as that of May 1, 1933, Vol. 1, No. 1. Only The New York Times, another of our few stable institutions though its editorial line is jittery compared to the Worker’s, has a longer typographical tradition (by some thirty years). Unlike the Times, the Worker costs the same now as it did in 1933: a penny a copy, 25 cents a year—the only periodical in journalistic history that costs twice as much by the year as by the issue.1

The contents of Vol. XXXVII, No. 1, are also continuous with the past. The front page is shared by articles whose common denominator is non-violent militancy, a principled tactic that Dorothy Day, along with the late A. J. Muste and Martin Luther King, Jr., introduced into American radicalism.

“Good Friday at Fort DeRussy”—the perfect Catholic Worker headline—is a detailed report from a local correspondent on an episode I didn’t see reported in the press. “Demonstrations to protest the American War in Vietnam were held last month in over forty American cities,” it begins. “One of the most dynamic centered on Fort DeRussy in Honolulu and climaxed on Good Friday with nonviolent civil disobedience against American military power.”

Two columns in the center, “God’s Coward,” were devoted to a long extract (Catholic Worker writers tend to expansiveness; it takes them a thousand words to get really warmed up) from the memoirs “continued from last month” of the late Ammon Hennacy about his prison experiences as a draft resister in the First World War. Not front-page stuff, except in the Worker, but it turns out to be good journalism—specific, lively, and shocking—which may show younger readers there is no new evil under the sun. The author died recently at seventy-six after a heart attack on a picket line, an old-style American radical, a “nut” to the cops, who called himself “a one-man revolution” and, after his conversion to Catholicism in middle age, “a Christian anarchist.” He was a regular contributor to the Worker for some twenty years.


There is a fine memoir of Hennacy in an obituary by Michael Harrington in the Village Voice of January 29, 1970. Harrington, who is Norman Thomas’s successor as leader of the Socialist Party, was an editor of the Worker in the early Fifties. He was one of “Dorothy’s bright young men” (and women). There has been a long line of them now, an ever-renewing flow of young idealists who work a few years with her and then move on; a rite de passage that has scattered Catholic Worker alumni widely throughout the radical world.

The third front-page item is a long letter from Cesar Chavez to the president of the grape growers’ organization: “I am glad to hear your accusations that our union movement and table-grapes boycott have been successful because we have used violence and terror tactics…. During a most critical time in our movement last February, 1968, I undertook a twenty-five day fast. I repeat to you the principle enunciated to the membership at the start of the fast: if to build our union required the deliberate taking of life, either the life of a grower or his child or the life of a worker or his child, then I choose not to see the union built.” A negative moral choice—abstain, don’t do it—which seems to be hard for Americans. I don’t recall seeing Mr. Chavez’s letter anywhere else. Nonviolence is hard to make news out of, and it is not as chic a mode of radical action as it once was. But the Worker, like the Times, is a “journal of record.”

Judicious skipping is necessary to enjoy the Worker. There were also in the May, 1969, issue three not bad “Prison Poems”; a page and a half of letters, always a lively department in the Worker; and a long, relaxed chronicle of doings on the Workers’ communal estate up the Hudson, “Tivoli, a Farm with a View.” This was often interesting except for the nature writing, which is a blind spot of mine. (Though I was intrigued by “Now and then, a traveller to more northern woods, the sweet-songed white-throated sparrow, sings yearningly: sweet, sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada.” Aesopian language, maybe?) Last but not least, the current installment of “On Pilgrimage,” a diary Miss Day runs in each issue, which is the paper’s most popular feature. Certainly it’s always readable since she is as direct in print as in conversation—an actual person is talking to you, and to herself. “On Pilgrimage” is an odd composite of Pascal’s Pensées and Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day.”

For the amateur who dips into these volumes here and there—the best way to enjoy them—some historical background will be helpful. And even the pros may get some hints about the strange anatomy of the Catholic Worker, the better to dissect it for reassembly into a doctoral thesis in—what? Political “Science”? (Precious little science in Miss Day’s paper.) History of Religion? Comparative Ethics? Abnormal Psychology? Or maybe American Studies, that all-covering academic maxicoat.

A few excerpts from my New Yorker articles on Dorothy Day of October 4 and 11, 1952, will sketch in the origins: “Early in 1933, when, at the age of thirty-five, Dorothy Day, a woman in whom lightheartedness and spiritual fervor are strangely and effectually intermingled, joined hands with the late Peter Maurin to launch the Catholic Worker movement, the Roman Catholic Church in this country was still deeply uninterested in liberal social causes. Abroad, especially in France, ‘social Catholicism’ had already become strong, but in the United States the hierarchy felt it wiser not to meddle in such matters.

“Miss Day, who had long been a radical and who had joined the Church only five years previously, and Maurin, a French-born religious zealot who had spent most of his fifty-six years tramping about America, living like a hobo and expounding his doctrine to all who would listen, felt that the Church as a whole should concern itself more with the problems faced by ordinary men and women in adjusting themselves to the economic pressures of an industrial capitalist society. Inspired by Maurin’s idealism and Miss Day’s intensity and drive, the Catholic Workers became agitators among the people; they fore-shadowed that renaissance of the ‘lay-apostolate’ that has since arisen in the Church. The Catholic Worker, the organization’s monthly paper, to which Miss Day and Maurin contributed voluminously and which later on in the Thirties reached a peak circulation of 150,000, gave the Workers a vastly larger audience than is enjoyed by most radical organs. ‘There were never any committees around the Catholic Worker office,’ a veteran of the paper’s early days recalls. ‘We just went out and did things. We didn’t form a Committee to Promote Improved Interracial Relations. We took Negroes into our homes and lived with them. We didn’t get up big-name letterheads to raise funds for strikers. We went out on the picket lines ourselves.’


“This direct-action approach, coupled with the fact that 1933 was the bottom year of the depression, gave the Workers a crusading appeal that struck fire in certain Catholic circles, especially among young priests, students in the theological seminaries, and some of the more enlightened members of the laity. Catholic Worker groups started up all over—often by spontaneous combustion, without any help from headquarters.

“A curious social paradox was involved. Theretofore, American Catholicism had been a lower-class affair, its followers consisting mostly of post-1840 immigrants from Catholic countries like Ireland, Poland, Italy, and Austria-Hungary; the upper classes—rated as such simply by virtue of having got here earlier—were solidly Protestant. But by 1930 the immigrants had begun to rise socially and economically, their children and even their grandchildren were going to college, and Catholicism began to produce middle-class intellectuals as full of reforming zeal as their Protestant counterparts had been for a century or more. As long as the majority of Catholics were proletarians, the hierarchy could, if it liked, deal with them in an authoritarian way and dragoon them into a conservative social pattern, but as the laity became richer and better educated, there was an increasing ferment of liberalism in the old bottles of the Church. Today, the hierarchy is still largely conservative—Cardinal Spellman, of New York, was probably more typical than Bishop Sheil, of Chicago—but the lower clergy and the laity have produced such Catholic phenomena as the interracial Friendship Houses; the St. Francis Xavier Labor College, in New York; the Chicago Catholic pro-labor monthly, Work; and a whole crop of so-called “labor priests,” like Father John M. Corridan, who played an important part in the insurgent longshoremen’s strike here last fall.

“Many of the individuals who are now working in such strange Catholic vineyards were given their first impulse and their training by the Catholic Worker movement. As Father Dennis Geaney, a Catholic educator, recently wrote of Miss Day in Work, ‘It was a Christian revolution she was starting. She was opening the minds of bishops, priests, seminarians, and lay people to the fact that Christianity was not a stuffy sacristy affair. She was a trumpet calling for all of us to find Christ in the bread lines, the jails, as a tenant farmer, migratory worker, or Negro. We think of Church history as being made by popes and bishops. Here is a woman who has placed her stamp on American Catholicism. The seed she sowed in the thirties is bearing fruit a hundred-fold in the fifties.’ “2

A graph of the Catholic Worker’s influence would show a long trough between 1940 and 1960. My New Yorker profile was written at its dead center, in 1952, twelve years after the social ferment of the Thirties had been smothered by wartime patriotism and prosperity, eight years before Kennedy’s election broke up the Eisenhower stasis. World War II made the Worker part of their title obsolete by removing the working class from our radical scene, so far permanently. The postwar depression predicted by all left-thinking prophets from Trotsky to Henry Wallace—and by many right-thinking ones too—never materialized. The poor were there but didn’t become visible until the mid-Sixties. The blacks were also there, more visible—the 1954 Supreme Court decision integrating the schools; the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott that made Martin Luther King, Jr., a national figure—but their problems were not a crucial issue. There were no crucial issues then, by Presidential order. There were no military adventures overseas either, to be fair—no Bay of Pigs, no Dominican occupation, no Vietnam horror. Ike was at least consistent: his foreign policy was as undynamic as his domestic.

The graph has turned upward in the last decade. The Worker’s circulation has risen from 58,000 in 1952 to 85,000 today.3 Vietnam has made pacifism no longer the “embarrassment” it was in the martial Forties or the moot issue it became during the Ike Pax. Draft resistance comes naturally to the Workers—they had plenty of (rather lonely) practice during World War II, many have gone to jail since 1965 and many are still there. Their anarchism, an eccentricity, almost a solipsism, in the Marxian Thirties, has become the norm of radical behavior in the Sixties: direct action (“We just went out and did things”); their antibourgeois, infra-rational, free-form style (when Abbie Hoffman told Miss Day, “You were the first hippie,” she was flattered). And the communal trust their houses of hospitality—there are still fifteen—have as their disorganizing principle: everybody welcome, everything free, the Marxist utopia, “To Each According to his Needs, From Each According to his Abilities.”

As for their Catholicism, the conflict between it and their radicalism of which Miss Day was as conscious as her Union Square critics—Cardinal Spellman’s Chancery impressed it on her frequently—has been relaxed of late, and it is the Church that has given ground. Slowly, grudgingly, with last-ditch defensive sorties from the Holy Office; but that a freer spirit is breezing through the rectories and seminaries hardly needs documenting.4

The long, dogged insistence of the Workers on practicing what other Christians preach has been a major factor in radicalizing many American Catholics. Their example may have been in the minds of those Catholic priests, like the Berrigan brothers, who have participated in midnight raids on draft boards or Dow Chemical offices to destroy records—violence that is restricted to inanimate objects, a sabotage technique borrowed from those earlier American anarchists, the “Wobblies.” The “Milwaukee Fourteen” who in the fall of 1968 incinerated some 10,000 draft files with homemade napalm before the cops arrived were mostly Catholic priests, scholars, and laymen, including two staff members of the local Catholic Worker house of hospitality.5 And Emmaus House, founded in 1967 in New York City by some extremely emancipated—in both the political and the “swinging” sense—young Catholic clerics, was directly inspired by the Workers. “I am a spiritual stepchild of Dorothy Day,” says one of its leaders, Father Kirk. “Since the Thirties, the Catholic Worker has used the word ‘revolution’ in its non-violent sense…. Emmaus is trying to bring the same kind of activism into the problems of religious freedom, race relations, draft resistance.”

The Workers’ example has also helped along the internal loosening-up process inside the Church, in matters of doctrine, regimen, and liturgy, but not always as their leader might have preferred. The radical-v.-Catholic dilemma has turned out to be real, but in a curious rebound neither Miss Day nor the Marxist skeptics anticipated. Because of her intransigent radicalism, many Catholic reformers assume she is on their side when they press for drastic changes inside the Church. Sometimes she is but often she isn’t. She supports the traditional rejection of abortion and birth control as immoral and unnatural. Although she thinks priests should be allowed to marry, on the pragmatic grounds that the shepherds would better understand their flocks if they shared this basic experience, she thinks celibacy appropriate for nuns and monks, whom she sees, also pragmatically, as specialists in the other world who should, therefore, set themselves apart from this one.

For the same reason—that there should be a difference marked between the religious and the secular if the holy is not to be blandly homogenized with the profane—she deplores nuns giving up their habits and eschewing communal prayers, and she disapproves of the innovations now being introduced into the liturgy by with-it young prelates who often consider themselves her disciples. “I guess I’m pretty much of a conservative in Church matters,” she remarked the other day with her usual offhand directness.

Secular radicalism and ecclesiastical conservatism are a more common mix than one might think, as one learns from Francine Gray’s recent collection, Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism (Knopf, $6.95). The Emmaus House crowd in Harlem are indeed liturgical swingers. But when Father Kirk calls himself “a spiritual stepchild of Dorothy Day,” he speaks more truly than perhaps he realizes: her reaction to their free-form masses is stepmotherly—in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales sense. However, the Berrigan brothers and Monsignor Ivan Illich, whose profiles take up seven-eighths of the book, are real and not step relatives of Dorothy Day.

“The traditional mass was a center of Philip Berrigan’s life,” we read. “Unlike Daniel, Philip was never interested in reforming liturgy.” And as for Monsignor Illich, who founded and still runs, under the protection of the liberal Bishop of Cuernavaca, despite Vatican harassments, that innocuously named Center of Intercultural Documentation which might more realistically be called The Anti-Imperialist Academy or The Institute of Advanced De-Yankeefication (“o centro do desgringalizaceo” the Bishop of Rio de Janeiro has called it, approvingly)—as for this subversive Jesuit who describes the Alliance for Progress as “an alliance pregnant with violence that has maintained or swept into power military regimes in two-thirds of Latin-American countries,” or, more temperately, “a deception designed to maintain the status quo, a bone thrown to the dog,” and who is cynical even about the Peace Corps—Father Ivan makes Dorothy Day look permissive.

“What makes the place run here,” he told Mrs. Gray, “is le bon ton, our basically correct behavior…. I am profoundly opposed to the Underground Church because it is counter-revolutionary. You reform by staying within the system. I believe in good manners, in playing the rules of the game…. An American priest comes here and starts saying mass in a sports shirt…. Quelle horreur! Underground churchmen, no thank you. On n’est pas frères et cochons avec le Seigneur. I am theologically profoundly conservative…. I take my stand with Spellman against a married clergy.” As Mrs. Gray puts it, with her dry irony, so rare and refreshing in political writing today, especially on the left: “Underground clerics who have come to Cuernavaca to learn from Illich’s progressive thinking are appalled to hear that he rises at six every morning to say his breviary; goes to confession in an old-fashioned booth; dutifully takes Communion every Sunday; and delights in observing feast days, holy days, saint’s days and other ancient forms of Catholic ritual.”

Daniel Berrigan is harder to place. On the one hand, his “impatience with traditional parish services” led him to experiment with “spontaneous, artistic liturgies.” Mrs. Gray has eight pages on a mass Father Daniel celebrated at the New York Catholic Worker house of hospitality while out on bail after Catonsville. “He said the litany calmly, softly, with a deadpan air that verged on boredom. His entourage exchanged amused looks, for a Berrigan liturgy, these days, would more likely consist of long readings from Pablo Neruda, Auden, T. S. Eliot—but today he conceded, with delicacy, to Dorothy Day’s traditional tastes.”

Not delicately enough, it appears. When I asked her about that mass, she had some complaints not recorded by the usually encyclopedic Mrs. Gray: “He used a loaf of French bread for the Host, tore off hunks with his hands, crumbs all over the floor. And later they were swept up and dumped into the garbage pail. If you really believe they had become the flesh of Jesus, as I do, literally—well, that was no way to treat the body of Our Lord. Those crumbs bothered me.” Her tone was apologetic—she was talking to a non-believer—but there was a note of defiance too, for the same reason. I suddenly realized the simplicity of her faith, also what a strength it must be for radical action.

On the other hand, even Father Dan has drawn the line many degrees north of the swingers. Divine Disobedience has a passage about a Protestant chaplain at Cornell who “with the enthusiasm of a gourmet lauding a four-star restaurant described Cornell’s thriving underground church”—the folk songs, the guitar strumming, the news clips, “the saying to hell with Canon law! the people talking and laughing during the service…. And our kiss of peace! Wow, man, that ain’t no handshake!” And then, sadly: “Curious that such a liberal man as Dan doesn’t get a kick out of our underground church. He came once and looked uncomfortable.” The explanation may be that “Father Dan,” as he is known even to the FBI, is not a liberal but a radical. “The underground church is a mess,” he told Francine Gray. “All talk and no action, just another liberal white ghetto. What a country club!”

Even politically Miss Day’s tactics vis-à-vis the Church hierarchy have been rather old-fashioned by current standards of militancy, going in for end runs rather than line-bucking confrontations, skillfully modulating between defiance in secular matters and obedience in the ghostly sphere. She has always insisted she is a Catholic first and a radical second. “The hierarchy permits a priest to say Mass in our chapel,” she told me in 1952. “They have given us the most precious thing of all—the Blessed Sacrament. If the Chancery ordered me to stop publishing the Catholic Worker tomorrow, I would.” But the Chancery never has. For there are many mansions in the Church of Rome, an ancient bureaucracy that rules with a sophisticated tolerance not yet achieved by its Communist rivals, and the Catholic Workers have been allotted if not a mansion at least a hall bedroom.6

Their leader has taken full advantage of the rules of the game, which are that Catholics are free to express, and act on, any ideas, including anarchism, that have not (a) been decided by the Pope speaking ex cathedra or from his throne as the lineal successor of St. Peter and so the Vicar, or mouthpiece of God, to be “matters of faith and morals” (as against the extra cathedra decisions he makes daily, standing up so to speak, as the chief executive of an international cartel); and (b) also then denounced as unacceptable for members of the faith. Since the most reactionary modern Popes have not ventured to damn, ex cathedra, specific political doctrines, however repulsive, Miss Day was taking less of a chance in proclaiming her willingness to give up the Worker if so ordered by the Chancery than might, on the face of it, appear. Also, as she remarked to me the other day, reflectively: “There are ways of getting around a Cardinal.”

“An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,” is an Emersonian apothegm that sounds truer than it is. Exceptions swarm. Richelieu’s shadow is tenebrous indeed in the French Academy he founded. Nor, for all the campaign oratory, can much trace of Jefferson be discerned in the Democratic party of a generation after his death, let alone today, and likewise with Lincoln and the Republicans—their their shadows, in so far as they are traceable in those institutions, have been shortened, not lengthened. And what “one man” was post-shadowed in the Courts of Chancery Dickens wrote about, or his Circumlocution Office? The Pentagon? The Federal Reserve Board? The Supreme Court? AT&T? Yale? Certainly not Elihu. Harvard? Certainly not John.

The only American institutions I can think of which Emerson’s generalization fits are J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Dorothy Day’s Catholic Workers. It is true that Peter Maurin had the original vision and that without it their movement would never have come into existence and the Greenwich Village beauty of the Twenties would never have become the radical abbess of today, still beautiful at seventy-two. Maurin’s primitive Christian insight into the sickness of our time struck the essential, creative spark, as she constantly reminds us—and herself.7

But what she doesn’t emphasize because she is strikingly lacking in vanity—she has plenty of ego or she couldn’t accomplish what she has, but ego is pride, not vanity: living up to one’s standards, not others’—is that she was able to give his vision flesh and blood because she has qualities he lacked: common sense; everyday housekeeping practicality; a flair in her writing and talking for making abstract principles concrete and even homely tactical skill in dealing with worldly phenomena like fund-raising, city commissioners, building inspectors, cardinals, and policemen; and finally—specially useful for guiding a free-form collective enterprise—a direct, easy way with people. Long before Peter Maurin died in 1949, the Catholic Worker style had been established by his grateful proselyte and admiring cofounder.8

At seventy plus, Dorothy Day is still what she was in her thirties—the active, personal center of the movement and its paper. Not the least of her qualifications for the job is that she never really wanted it. “Low in mind all day, full of tears,” is a typical entry in “On Pilgrimage,” her public-private journal. “What with Easton, New York, Boston, Ottawa, Toronto and Missouri groups all discouraged, all looking for organization instead of self-organization, all weary of the idea of freedom and personal responsibility—I feel bitterly oppressed. I am in the position of a dictator trying to legislate himself out of existence. They all complain there is no boss. Today I happened to read Dostoevsky’s ‘Grand Inquisitor,’ most apropos. Freedom—how men hate it and chafe under it, how unhappy they are with it!”

This was written in 1936, three years after she and Maurin had founded the Catholic Workers. Things are still about the same.

Postscript: The editors of The New York Review, after reading the above, wondered whether the recent trend toward violence in some New Left quarters might not again be isolating the Catholic Workers as in the Fifties, this time from the left. So I talked with Dorothy Day about it. “Of course we’re against any kind of violence including psychological,” she said, “and if this cuts us off from the young, we’ll just have to accept it. But I don’t think it has. Our New York place is swarming with them. [I talked there last March at one of those Friday night conversazioni they’ve been putting on since the Thirties, speakers ranging from Morton Sobell to W. H. Auden, and a lot of the audience looked to be under thirty.—DM] At Tivoli in the summer we don’t know where to put them, they sleep on the lawns, in the woods. And the paper’s circulation is still going up.”

I asked her about the sabotage raids on draft boards that have been mounted, mostly under Catholic leadership, in a dozen or more places. (The exact number is hard to come by since the press, including that whited sepulchre of “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” The New York Times, hasn’t reported them until an actual trial makes it impossible to ignore the brute fact.)

To my surprise, though I shouldn’t have been surprised by now by this Catholic-disciplined free-thinker, she didn’t approve. “I know the violent spirit of the Catholics. Yes, it’s only directed against inanimate objects now, as you say, but it could lead to the real thing. Bombings are the next step—and when it comes to bombs you can’t control it, no matter what your intentions, you can’t be sure there isn’t a late worker or a cleaning woman around…. Those priests and sisters! I admire their courage and dedication but not their arrogance. In the old days Father LaFarge said to me: ‘We have a subservient laity and a bullying clergy.’ When I became a convert, I noticed that Catholics reacted more explosively, to radical ideas than Protestants did. Once they’d gotten up the courage to defy the hierarchy, they exulted in their new-found freedom, they kicked up their heels.” There was affection in her voice as well as reproval, also a kind of pride; and she didn’t bother to mention that she had gone to Baltimore to publicly support the Berrigans and their Catonsville co-conspirators.9

She had two other objections to the raids on draft boards. First, they provoke retaliations in kind: she cited last year’s burglarizing of the War Resisters League headquarters in New York and the theft of its membership lists, also two episodes I hadn’t heard about: the busting up of Dave Dellinger’s cooperative print shop at Glen Gardner, New Jersey, and the burning out of the Philadelphia headquarters of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. “You won’t understand this, Dwight,” she prophesied about her second objection, and she was right, I didn’t. It is that poor kids, especially blacks, want to get into the army: “They get a uniform, free board, and they’re treated like men—for once, the State is on their side—and they even have a chance to go to college free after they get out. So they resent white idealists making it harder for them.”

DM: “But it just delays the process a bit—couldn’t they wait a few weeks?”

DD: “Why should they? They have a right to decide for themselves, the priests and sisters shouldn’t choose for them.”

DM: “You certainly believe in freedom of choice anyway.”

DD: “I also believe in the golden rule and if we bust up their offices we can’t complain when they bust up ours. Gandhi never used violence even against inanimate things.”

DM: “But don’t you think, Dorothy, that things are pretty desperate here now and we can’t be strict constructionists about Gandhi’s teachings, that they’ve got to bend a little to accommodate our very different historical situation and needs?”

DD: “No.”

She ended by complaining about a review in the NYR of a book on the late Father Camillo Torres which called her Introduction “sweet.” I asked how come she had written an Introduction to a book on a priest-intellectual who’d been killed leading a guerrilla band, and she explained that while she deplored his having fallen for “that Che Guevara nonsense,” she admired his dedication to the Colombian peasants—her tone was of a weary governess, disapproving and loving—“those children, they’ll be the death of me yet!”

But that “sweet” did rankle—she didn’t want to be praised as a sweet old lady (who would, indeed?) and in fact she isn’t. Strict and tolerant, contemptuous and forgiving, understanding and intemperate, these antimonies describe her attitude toward radical violence—unless it’s directed against people. On that, she’s not ambivalent. Still, there’s quite a gap between her speech at the pretrial rally for the Catonsville Nine (see footnote 9) and what she said to me a year and a half later. It can be partly explained by later events, and her reaction to them, such as the rise in leftist bombings, a technological escalation beyond the Berrigans’ handicraft methods that is sinister because hard to limit to inanimate targets.

There is also the increasing pressure of a new style of radical dissent, which is disorderly in form as well as content, while she holds to the old style, which accepts the prescribed forms (of the Catholic Church or the American Constitution) and tries to inject a radical content into them—to restore them to or pervert them from their original historical meanings, the verb depending on one’s politics. Legal illegality, so to speak, as against the illegal illegality Daniel Berrigan felt himself compelled to adopt, much against his temperament and his past behavior, when he decided not to surrender himself after his conviction because he had concluded that justice now lies outside the Department of Justice. “It is impossible to remain Christian and abide by the law of this land,” he said when he surfaced for a brief sermon in a Methodist church near Philadelphia, urging the congregation to “refuse to pay taxes [and to] aid and abet and harbor people like myself, so that a solid wall of conscience confronts the warmakers.” A Scarlet Pimpernel who wore his red with a difference, he evaded capture for three months, Mr. Hoover’s agents being, like Citizen Robespierre’s, more in the tradition of Hawkshaw the Detective than of Sherlock Holmes. And when he was finally run to earth—on Block Island, by a covey of G-men who surrounded the house posing as bird-watchers—the news photo of a beefy agent clutching his handcuffed little prisoner firmly by the arm was puzzling, for the prisoner was smiling broadly, triumphantly, while his captor glared at the camera with a scowl of disgust. Who had won, really?

Like many of us, Dorothy Day seems to be of two minds as to “how far” the antiwar resistance should go—or rather of one heart (soft) and one mind (hard) that don’t always jibe. Also, there’s an experimental, imaginative quality to her way of thinking which I’d agree with The New York Times in calling anarchistic, though with the opposite valuation. As she said, impatiently, when I pressed her: “Really, Dwight, you’ve known me long enough not to expect me to be consistent!”

Copyright © 1970 by The Greenwood Reprint Corporation.

This Issue

January 28, 1971