Written by Sherry
Thursday, 25 June 2009 07:16
Bobby Vidal, our team leader in LA, sent me a notice about a new book coming out about the friendship between Dorothy Day and Catherine Doherty: Comrades Stumbling Along: The Friendship of Catherine de Hueck Doherty and Dorothy Day as Revealed Through Their Letters
What a perfect title. Comrades Stumbling Along. Bobby knows that I'm a huge fan of both women, pioneers and giants of the lay apostolate in the 20th century. I tell Dorothy & Catherine stories at every Called & Gifted I teach.
Americans tend to be much more familiar with Dorothy Day. Catherine and her husband Eddie, founded Madonna House as part of what was then known as "Catholic Action" in 1947. Here's a brief history of Catherine's ministry and Madonna House.
Although Catherine Doherty was very active in New York in the 40's, she was a Russian émigré and Canadian citizen, and is much better known up north. In the US, I have resorted to calling her "the Dorothy Day of Canada" to get the point across quickly. (Please gentle Canadian readers, it was a strategy of last resort. Her story is so rich and fascinating, you can't do it justice in a few minutes and that's all I have to work with most of the time. If you feel like throwing things at me, please throw money. The Institute could always use the help.)
Catherine had more lives than a cat. She nearly died in the Russian revolution before escaping to a new life of grueling poverty in Canada, survived a horrific and abusive first marriage, was a witness to the horrors of the Spanish civil war and was in Warsaw when the Nazis marched in. She was raised Russian Orthodox, became Catholic as a young woman, and spent much of her life fostering relationships between western and eastern Christianity.
Catherine was a fearless pioneer of racial justice in Harlem in the 1940's. (A telling story: in the 40's a white Catholic group in Georgia rose up, beat Catherine, and tore her clothing to shreds after one of her presentations on racial justice. She was rescued by the black janitor.) She was a mystic, a big woman with a big personality and evoked very strong reactions - positive and negative in other people. Both she and Dorothy, although completely orthodox and faithful, were so far out on the left hand edge of the Catholic world before the Second Vatican Council, that you could barely see them.
Although they were profoundly different in personality, Catherine and Dorothy Day were friends and comrades and especially close during the 1940's when their respective apostolates were only 5 miles apart in New York City. As Catherine put it later:
"When I moved to Harlem, Dorothy Day and I became even closer. There were only about five miles between her house and my Harlem house. So occasionally when we both had enough money, let’s say about a dollar, we would go to Child’s where you could get three coffee refills (for the price of one cup), and we used to enjoy each cup and just talk.
Talk about God. Talk about the apostolate. Talk about all the things that were dear to our hearts.
"But we were both very lonely because, believe it or not, there were just the two of us in all of Canada and America, and we did feel lonely and no question about it.
"Periodically we would have a good cry in our coffee cups. We really cried, I mean honest, big tears. We would sit there, and the waitress would look at us. Dorothy and I would hold hands, and we would cry. We had had it! But we would always rally. And I think rallying is a sign of perseverance."
- (Restoration, February 1981)
Last weekend in Kansas City, Matt Karr, who is responsible for evangelization and catechesis in the Archdiocese, made an important observation. He said that our failure to evangelize our own and to foster true Christian community - a community centered around the following of Christ - are Catholicism's two biggest pastoral gaps. I think Matt hit the nail on the head and the story of Day and Doherty illustrates the power of discipleship to transcend the natural basis for friendship.
As Fr. Bob Wild of Madonna House (author and editor of Comrades Stumbling Along) described the relationship of Dorothy Day and Catherine Doherty:
Dorothy Day titled her autobiography The Long Loneliness, and at the heart of Catherine’s spirituality was her desire to assuage the loneliness of Christ. I think one of their strong bonds was their loneliness, caused by their being pioneers in an area of Catholic life that was little understood or appreciated, even in the Church.
They met in the loneliness of Christ.
As I (Fr. Wild) delve more deeply into their relationship, it strikes me that if Catherine and Dorothy hadn’t been so united in Christ in the lay apostolate and in zeal for the kingdom of God, most probably their differences of character and approach to life would not have drawn them together in any kind of friendship.
Their friendship is a profound example of how Christ can draw and bind together people of very diverse temperaments and backgrounds, and unite them by the power of his Holy Spirit.
In one undated letter Dorothy wrote to Catherine, "It is good to urge each other on to virtue, but remember, we are comrades stumbling along, not saints drifting along in ecstasies."