When Pope Francis addressed Congress in 2015, he cited four great Americans: President Abraham Lincoln, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., theologian Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day, the famous writer and activist. Day, who died in 1980 at age 83, was a remarkable 20th century figure: journalist and founder of the “Catholic Worker” movement, which established soup kitchens and “houses of hospitality” in the Great Depression. More than 200 Catholic worker facilities remain in operation today. In this profile, we hear excerpts of a talk by Dorothy Day, along with recollections by her youngest grandchild, Kate Hennessy, a Vermont native and author of The World will be Saved by Beauty, an intimate portrait of her grandmother. Also heard is Kathe McKenna, co-founder of Haley House in Boston, a Catholic Worker hospitality center, inspired by the life and work of Dorothy Day. Today, more than fifty years later, Haley House operates a soup kitchen, food pantry, elder meal site, over a hundred units of affordable housing, an urban farm, and the Haley House Bakery Café. Most recently, they opened Dudley Dough, an inner city workplace that offers a living wage and for customers, healthy pizza.
My grandmother always said they did not intend to start a soup line. They did not intend to open up houses of hospitality. That this just happened because of what they were writing about. People started showing up at their door saying, “We need help.” And so my grandmother was like, “Well, sit down. We have—we have more soup on the stove,” and then, you know, had to find apartments to put people up. And it just grew, and grew, and grew.”
—Kate Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day