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.

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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

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