Catherine Doherty & Dorothy Day: Friends, Servants of God

Some friendships were just meant to be.  Such was the friendship between Catherine Doherty and the better-known social activist Dorothy Day (click here for previous posts about Catherine).  Fr. Bob Wild, the postulator for Catherine’s cause for canonization, wrote of Catherine and Dorothy:  “They were almost mirror images of each other:  their apostolates covered roughly the same historical period, from 1930-1980, totally loyal Catholics, serving the poor, conditioned by the Great Depression, women of prayer, dedicated to the Church, founders of movements that continue to this day.” 


                 Dorothy and Catherine

                 Dorothy and Catherine

Although Catherine and Dorothy never had as much time together as they would have liked, they maintained a deep friendship through correspondence and an occasional visit.  They supported one another through thick and thin, experiencing many of the same challenges in their common work of serving the poor and marginalized.  At times they were discouraged by their work – Catherine writes of times they would meet together at Child’s in New York (“where you could get three coffee refills”) – and how they would sit together holding hands and crying into their coffee cups (“I mean honest, big tears….  We had had it!”).  But they prodded one another along the narrow path – and both are now honored by the Church with the title “Servant of God” as their causes for canonization are underway.  Both women had their share of bumps along the road, and there will certainly be bumps along the road to canonization, too.  And for them, of course, the title “saint” means nothing.  They ran the good race and fought the good fight; they served until the end and poured themselves out as libations for the little ones, the ones in need, the ones who are Christ in this world.  But for us, to call them “saint” would be a privilege.  It would allow us to speak the recognition, each time we say their names, that they did the single thing we are all supposed to do – the thing we want to do but don’t have the courage:  they followed the two great commandments until it hurt.


This is how Catherine described their last meeting in 1978:


“Well, this was quite a red letter day as far as I was concerned. It was the fact that I met Dorothy Day. She had her 81st birthday. She looks so thin, so thin. Life is sort of ebbing out of her. Only her eyes are still sparkly. For me this was a red letter day. To me there was really nobody there, only Dorothy. I looked at her, and I sort of took her in with my whole heart, my mind, my eyes, my body, my everything. And I said to myself, ‘Catherine, you are meeting a saint. Don’t you ever forget it, the saint of New York.”


The relationship between Catherine and Dorothy is a testament to friendship.  In this life, we either make the way smoother for each other, or we place obstacles in each other’s paths.  The mutual love between these women, grounded in the love of God, made the road ahead of both of them a bit less dark and dangerous.  It gave them both more courage to love. 


As Fr. Wild wrote:  “[It] will be a glorious and historically significant sight when Catherine’s and Dorothy’s huge beautiful portraits shine together in the brilliant Roman sunlight on the façade of St. Peter’s.”


Click here to read Fr. Bob’s article about Catherine Doherty and Dorothy Day.