“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”: Vietnam War Resistance at Chicago’s Catholic Universities

Sr. Myra Johnson and John Schmitz at DePaul University in Chicago partake in a campus protest following the deaths of four students at Kent State University in May 1970. Other universities across the United States also expressed their dismay and sustained their vigorous resistance to the Vietnam War. DePaul’s students and faculty reacted to the war’s implications under a moral framework guided by the university’s Catholic commitment to justice and peace. May 1970. Digital Collection, DePaul University Library, DePaul University, Chicago, IL.

My research project traces the emerging radical histories at three of Chicago’s Catholic universities during the Vietnam War: Loyola University, Mundelein College, and DePaul University. Published research on resistance to the Vietnam War at Catholic universities, specifically in Chicago, is largely overshadowed by substantial scholarship on the broader anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike protests at secular institutions, Catholic universities were specially guided by religious faith in their approach to the Vietnam War. While the United States encountered revolutionary social change in the 1960s, the Catholic Church also experienced a dramatic transformation. The Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, in the early 1960s acknowledged the Church’s commitment to social justice and recognized its potential as a global moral authority. Church officials also considered traditional teachings on war and violence within the context of Cold War ideology and nuclear proliferation. American Catholics embraced the radical changes unfolding in Rome, and implemented their renewed faith into discourse and action concerning contemporary global issues. As the Vietnam War escalated in the late 1960s, American Catholics responded with a zealous message of peace and justice evocative of their faith. Specifically, in Chicago, the universities and colleges of Loyola, Mundelein, and DePaul utilized the Church’s modernized moral codes to demonstrate their disapproval of the war. These university communities in Chicago applied their Catholic faith in discourse and action aimed at understanding the Vietnam War’s moral dilemmas. National events during the war, especially the Kent State massacre in 1970, also invigorated Chicago’s Catholic universities to sustain their moral opposition to the war. Their Catholic character challenged ROTC and the military draft’s contributions to the war, and demonstrated an active opposition to their presence on campus. Loyola, Mundelein, and DePaul resisted the Vietnam War under the guidance of a moral foundation that derived from their evolving Catholic identity in a post-Vatican II era.


Revising the Rough Draft

I received feedback on my rough draft shortly after submitting it. I somewhat knew what was coming ahead in terms of revisions. My professor’s comments and suggestions mostly touched upon the structure and argumentative aspect of my paper. I intentionally structured my rough draft to categorize each school, to develop their stories separately. Previous conversations with my instructors prompted me not to take this route with the final version of my paper. During the writing process of this first draft I struggled to fortify an argument. Instead, I wrote more of a detailed report on each school’s activism during the Vietnam War. I also lacked a well-structured historiography — this is where I talk about some of the sources used in my paper. I recently met with my instructors to evaluate my progress in revising and to review the rough draft. From our conversation we decided it would be ideal if I emphasized the religious dimensions in the radical anti-war activity at Loyola University, Mundelein College, and DePaul University.

The comments on my rough draft and the revelations in my recent meeting have prepared me to continue the revision process. Since receiving verbal and written feedback I have revised my historiography to in a thematic structure, and continue to revise other aspects of my paper. Rather than offering a comprehensive timeline of the anti-war movement on these campuses, I have decided to arrange the paper by themes: moratoriums, teach-ins, ROTC and the draft, etc. I will also need to conduct more research to further stress the religiosity in the activism, and to distinguish the schools from their secular counterparts. I am hoping to explain how the 1960s and 1970s were a turbulent time not just for the United States but also for the Roman Catholic Church. Radical changes from the Second Vatican Council affected American Catholics in the way that they handled social concerns. Catholic universities were not exempt from this transformation. These new developments from the Vatican were demonstrated in the students’ disapproval of the Vietnam War.

-Matthew Day

Rough Drafts, Prayers, and Pedicures

Between mid-January and early March I visited multiple archives around Chicago to collect research for my project. I compiled anything I found substantial to my topic into my own stylized notes. These notes later helped me during the writing portion of this draft. I was conflicted about telling the stories of Vietnam War resistance at Loyola, Mundelein, and DePaul in their own separate entities or to weave them together to encapsulate their common cause and objective. I decided to pursue the former. For my own purposes I believed that writing about each university separately would be easier to distinguish their timeline, similarities, and differences.

After multiple long nights and excessive amounts of green tea, my rough draft is complete. When I say rough, I mean very rough. The document itself is plastered with notes for future revisions, grammatical and stylistic errors. I found challenges in the lack of some evidence that I needed to support my arguments. In particular, I did not realize until writing my draft that I was missing crucial information on Mundelein College and DePaul University’s response to the Kent State shooting. It must have slipped my mind during research. I was also overwhelmed by the required page count (25-30 pages), but I’m not sure why. I have written 15-page research papers in the past, so a few more pages couldn’t be that more difficult. My classmates and I were #blessed to receive an extension from our instructors. Long nights also didn’t necessarily mean writing at the library. Because of the skewed weekend hours at the library, my friend Amanda and I opted for a more radical setting at Clarke’s on a Saturday night. Though this draft took a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, it is satisfying to have something on paper.

Thankfully, this is just the first draft — there is still room to improve! I will take my professors’ feedback and revise my paper. Between now and the second draft’s due date, I will revisit the archives at Loyola University and DePaul University to gain clarity on some of my sources. And, once I begin to revise my paper, I will take a more thematic approach to my topic and try to interweave the histories of anti-war activism at Loyola University, Mundelein College, and DePaul University. I am looking forward to finalizing my argument and evidence, and to eventually produce a polished paper.

-Matthew Day

“Blessed Are The [Pancake-makers]”

For those who did not know, I co-led an Alternative Break Immersion (ABI) to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, DC this past week. Below, I hope to share my thoughts and reflections on this immersive experience:

After a peace vigil at the Pentagon on Monday morning we returned to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker for a breakfast and de-briefing. In return for hospitality, the Loyola participants and I agreed to help cook meals and complete chores around the house. On this morning Art Laffin, one of the Catholic Workers, decided we were to make pancakes for breakfast. Several of the participants enjoyed perfecting their pancake-pouring skills, thus igniting a new Beatitude from Art: “Blessed are the pancake-makers, for they shall be full and satisfied.” This certainly struck a chord in me because my project for the Ramonat Seminar is similarly titled “Blessed Are The Peacemakers”.

The DC Catholic Worker was founded in 1981 by Fr. Dick McSorely, a Jesuit at Georgetown. (Side note: Fr. McSorely was the Kennedy family’s tutor and consoled Jackie after her husband’s assassination in 1963 — I was elated to be staying in this house). His vision for this Catholic Worker revolved around Gospel nonviolence and the promotion of peace through direct action approaches of solidarity. The Catholic Workers we met — Art, Colleen, and Kathy — proved to be purveyors of their Christian values and pacifist principles. Whether we were at the Pentagon holding a peace vigil or marching in unity with Standing Rock on the National Mall, the Catholic Workers displayed a brotherly love that could only be compared to that of Dorothy Day’s message of compassion.

I anticipated this ABI for a number of months, and it was hard to grasp the reality while I was actually there. Throughout the years, the house hosted several Catholic Workers and speakers, like the Berrigan brothers, to nurture a common good. As a house of hospitality, about four or five mothers and their young children — from Ethiopia and El Salvador — live in the residence. We were fortunate to eat most meals with the families, and learned of their hardships and triumphs as refugees in the United States. My interactions with the Catholic Workers themselves, especially Kathy, brought a whole new dimension to my experience and understanding of the Catholic Worker Movement. Their friendly hugs and honesty complemented our tiring schedule of activities throughout the week. In particular, I enjoyed my morning chats with Kathy upon her return from prayer at a nearby Franciscan community. The Catonsville Nine action in 1968 prompted Kathy to lead a life of servitude and pacifism, and later brought her to the DC Catholic Worker in the late 1980s. She was also very frank about her multiple stints in jail for trespassing government property, including the Pentagon and a trident submarine base in New England, and her subsequent refusal to pay the fines stipulated by the courts. Kathy also invited women Catholic priests — yes, they do exist — to celebrate Mass at the house. Word got out, and the Archdiocese removed the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House from their directory of lay organizations.

Throughout the week my group and I met with different organizations in the DC area to learn about their advocacy work, including TASSC International (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition), Pax Christi, and the Jesuit Conference of North America. Each of these organizations provided an insight into the broader Catholic peace movement on the national and international level. We also had the opportunity to meet with Senator Chris Coons from Delaware, a friend of my dad’s from his time at Yale Law School. It was particularly enlightening to meet a lawmaker, regardless of political affiliation, and to learn about how his faith interacts with his political career.

I was especially thrilled to hear from the DC Catholic Worker’s speaker of the month Eric Martin, co-editor of The Berrigan Letters. His intriguing lecture on Daniel and Philip Berrigan’s loving and tumultuous relationship expanded my perception on the Catholic Leftist duo. Nearly fifty people filled the small confines of the house’s dining room for the lecture, and, when asked about any relation they may have had with the Berrigans, over half of the attendees raised their hand. Stories of inspiration and redemption from Martin and the attendees contribute to the legacy of the Berrigan brothers and the ongoing mission for social justice today.

My week-long “pilgrimage” to Washington, DC will remain a constant source of encouragement as I discover how to advocate on behalf of the oppressed in the world. It has also been a source of inspiration as I research and write my seminar paper on radicalism at Catholic universities in Chicago during the Vietnam War. I hope to return to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in the future to reconnect with the people who confront violence with nonviolence, in the spirit of a woman whose tenacious outlook on social concerns persevere in today’s world.

Check out some photos below from the Alternative Break Immersion:

(Hint: click on an individual photo to enlarge)

-Matthew Day

And the Oscar for Best Outline goes to..

To view my outline, click here.

Procrastination has been a common theme throughout my academic career, and it certainly persevered this past weekend. As many of you know, the Academy Awards held its ceremony last night, where films like Moonlight and La La Land dominated the scene. Now you may be wondering why I’m writing about the Academy Awards.. Well, it certainly played a role in delaying the completion of my outline. I’m hoping, and crossing my fingers and toes, that I can shake off this procrastination “bug” when it comes time to write my first draft!

Now, back to the outline.. In about five-and-a-half pages I was able to encapsulate my research project in its entirety, but as a work in progress. After many hours at the archives of Loyola, Mundelein, and DePaul, I was conflicted in how to present the evidence to back up my thesis: should I write three separate histories for the schools of interest that stem from my argument, or should I weave them all together to tell their story of solidarity during the Vietnam War? I ended up doing the former because each university has their own unique story and deserves to be told on its own pedestal. However, this could change as I begin writing my first draft. While there are differences between the schools, there certainly are similarities. Many of the schools I am researching participated in the same events, including the 1969 Moratoriums and the strike in response to the Kent State and Jackson State massacres of 1970.

Writing this outline was no easy feat. I have accumulated so much information over the last month at various archives and digital collections. I tried to make my outline as detailed as possible so that I can easily navigate it as I write the draft. I inputted sources that I believed were crucial to the stories of how these three Chicago Catholic universities participated in direct action against American intervention in Indochina. This also meant I had to be cognizant of sources that were of the era but are not so essential in defending my argument. In particular, I came across a joint letter to the Loyola News editor written by Dorothy Day and other pacifists. The letter is a clear endorsement of the Catonsville Nine’s direct action against the draft. Though its significance is obvious and relevant to this year’s Ramonat Seminar, the letter does not describe an event taking on campus or portray a student’s response to American foreign policy in Indochina.


“Letter to the Editor,” written by Dorothy Day and other pacifists calling for support for the Catonsville Nine, a group of laity and clergy who burned draft records in 1968.

Thanks for reading!

-Matthew Day

Reflecting on a Dorothy Day Symposium

Earlier this week the Ramonat Seminar hosted our final speaker, Robert Ellsberg. Originally, Mr. Ellsberg was to be the only event of the week. However, with much interest from other departments at Loyola, especially the Hank Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage, the Revolution of the Heart: A Symposium on Dorothy Day was conceived. Over the course of February 16 and 17, panels and speakers converged on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus to discuss a range of topics attributed to Dorothy Day, including: the Catholic Worker movement and the experience as a Catholic Worker, an update on her canonization process, and Day’s significance as an icon to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Mr. Ellsberg lived at St. Joseph’s House between 1975 and 1980, and became well acquainted with Dorothy Day during the last five years of her life. Over a two-year period he was the editor-in-chief of The Catholic Worker newspaper. Since then, he has become the publisher of Orbis Books, and has edited anthologies of Dorothy Day’s writings. Ellsberg’s talk mainly focused on his relationship with Dorothy Day, and her significance in today’s world of turmoil. He also commented on how her unusual background as a socialist, suffragist, and unwed mother seem to have little impact on her candidacy for sainthood. The comparison between Pope Francis and Day asserts their shared concern for the marginalized and the belief of “faith that does justice.” His uncanny Trump impersonation received praise from the audience, especially when he referred to Day as a “nasty woman” – in good spirits, of course. A few of my fellow Ramonat scholars and I had the privilege to accompany Mr. Ellsberg and our instructors to dinner.


Dorothy Day and Robert Ellsberg at St. Joseph’s House

To top it off, the Hank Center made it possible for Kate Hennessy, the youngest granddaughter of Dorothy Day, to make a keynote speech on the second day of the symposium. Hennessy recently published Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, a beautifully-written portrayal of Day’s life as a woman, mother, grandmother, and activist. In her address, Hennessy made a plea for hope that stemmed from her grandmother’s willingness to be an advocate for the voiceless in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Hennessy also shared details of her own mother’s relationship with Day and Catholicism.

Some Ramonat Scholars (Carolina and Amanda) and myself with Kate Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day (L). Hennessy’s inscription in my copy of her book; note that it’s addressed to “Matthew Day” (R).

I had been looking forward to this event since the beginning of last semester. Having read many of Robert Ellsberg’s writings on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, I was excited to share how Day has been a lifelong symbol of social justice and empowerment for myself. At dinner, I learned that I share the same middle name (Day) as his daughter. Ellsberg and Hennessy’s personal stories with Day and the Catholic Worker brought the readings from last semester to life. Day’s perseverance and strong convictions  were greatly portrayed by the people that knew her, and this conference gave them the platform to help others understand her spirit.

-Matthew Day

Primary Sources Tell All

After a month of rest and travel, I am back on Loyola’s campus and the Ramonat Seminar is in full throttle. This semester has a special focus on a research project, each tailored to the interests of those in the course. But, of course each project will have some emphasis on the social activism in the realm of Dorothy Day’s America. My project focuses on anti-war activism during the 1960s and 1970s at Chicago’s Catholic universities and colleges, including Loyola and its now-affiliated Mundelein College, DePaul University, Rosary College (present-day Dominican University), and Saint Xavier University. Because my project considers specific college campuses during the Vietnam War rather than the broader anti-war movement across the country, a large proportion of my research will be based on primary sources. I will be utilizing student journalism, administrative records, oral histories, and photographs to portray the fiery activism that occurred on Chicago’s Catholic university and college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today in the digital collection of the Women and Leadership Archives, I came across the January 24, 1969 issue of Mundelein College’s student-run newspaper, The Skyscraper. The article of interest, “Apathy deflates radical’s bag” by Ellen Roucek, describes the challenges that Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) face in the conveyance of their message for peace and equality at their respective campus. Rose McKiernan, a member of SDS, explains that students are not aware of the devastating conflict in Vietnam, and thus feel that the intentions of SDS are not sincere to the matter. The article also notes a working relationship between student organizations, like SDS, at Mundelein College and at the neighboring Loyola University.


The January 24, 1969 issue of Mundelein College’s The Skyscraper. (Courtesy of the Women & Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago)

The anti-war sentiment at Loyola University was heavily reported by its (former) campus newspaper, Loyola News. In the May 16, 1969 issue, “SDS Holds Demonstration” by Tom Hayden reports on a student-led strike against the ROTC program at Loyola. SDS at Loyola openly challenged President James Maguire, SJ and the university’s policy on ROTC. The author’s name rings a bell to me: Tom Hayden drafted the monumental “Port Huron Statement” in 1962 for SDS. However, this could be – and probably is – a completely different Tom Hayden, but I digress.


The May 16, 1969 issue of Loyola News. (Courtesy of the Loyola University Chicago Archives & Special Collections)

Thanks for reading.. More to come soon!


Matthew Day