Last November, the United States episcopal conference voted to support Dorothy Day’s cause for canonisation. I’m something of a Dorothy Day fan, so I think it’s great news.

Nonetheless, Day’s cause does raise a few questions. It’s probably worth noting that the bishops’ vote wasn’t an endorsement of her canonisation. It was a canonical measure which advances her cause at a local level.

Dr Edward Peters offers a typically thorough and concise examination of the perceived obstacles to Dorothy Day’s canonisation. Namely: her abortion; her alleged communism; and her conflicts with Cardinal Spellman over the name of The Catholic Worker.

Catholic World Report deals with these issues at greater length, revealing details which render even the third claim moot:

Day has also been criticized for butting heads with Church hierarchy. One often-repeated story is that Cardinal Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York told Day to remove the word “Catholic” from the Catholic Worker, and she refused.

“Dorothy Day never disobeyed Cardinal Spellman or any other archbishop of New York,” said Cornell. “She explicitly stated, in my hearing, more than once, that if the CW were no longer welcome in the Archdiocese of New York she would close down the operation. She was a loyal and obedient daughter of the Church.”

As a matter of fact, Day was asked to change the newspaper’s name, and she did refuse. But there’s refusing and there’s refusing. Years later, Day reflected on the episode, which was dropped almost as soon as it was raised:

I never believed that the Monsignor who wanted to shut us down or to delete the word ‘Catholic’ from our paper acted on his own. I’m sure at least a few monsignors were in on the act. Maybe his eminence the Cardinal. Maybe not. I think they realized we were going to pray very hard, to pray and pray: in churches and in homes and even on the streets of our cities. We were ready to go to St. Patrick’s, fill up the Church, stand outside it in prayerful meditation. We were ready to take advantage of America’s freedoms so that we could say what we thought and do what we believed to be the right thing to do: seek the guidance of the Almighty …. We did pray a long time for Cardinal Spellman. We prayed that we would not be presumptuous in so praying, but we kept praying. If he had ordered us close, we might’ve gone right to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and continued our praying there, day and night, until the good Lord took us – or settled the matter.

It’s worth reading the whole article from which I copied that quote: Dorothy Day, Workers’ Rights and Catholic Authenticity. It’s long, but it raises some fascinating questions. What can we make of Day’s “prudence and docility,” as Dr Peters puts it?

And what does it say about Cardinal Spellman? I have nothing against the man. I read a novel of his one summer. It was a good read. But I can’t help thinking he must have been a bit tyrannical. He didn’t get along with the Venerable Fulton Sheen either. Says Archbishop Sheen’s niece:

He had a terrible time with Cardinal Spellman. That’s well known. My uncle was very successful with the mission appeal, and Cardinal Spellman’s collections were not as successful. He asked my uncle to give him some money, but he refused. He told the cardinal, “People donated to the missions, and the money has to go to the missions.”

Their dispute went all the way to Rome, and my uncle won. The cardinal didn’t want him speaking in New York, and told his priests not to have him come to their parishes. I’m sure that being sent to Rochester was the cardinal’s doing. It was a heartache for my uncle.

He was buried under the main altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. My uncle had bought a plot in Queens and had intended to be buried there, but Cardinal Terence Cooke called and offered to bury him in St. Patrick’s. He said, “I want to make up for the way New York treated him.”