Saint Francis of Assisi
Rachel Carson
  Dorothy Day
  Mohandas Gandhi
  Jiddu Krishnamurti
  Dalai Lama
  Martin Luther King
  Nelson Mandela
  Anita Roddick
  Eleanor Roosevelt
  Albert Schweitzer
  Mother Teresa
  Desmund Tutu
Chair in Ethical Management
HEC Montreal


Dorothy Day: "Love is the measure by which we will be judged."

"Leadership," Dorothy Day once told a young reporter whom she felt was badgering her with irrelevant personal questions about her leadership style and motives, "isn't only something in you, in a person-your personality. Leadership depends on where you are as much as who you are and it depends upon the company you are keeping. If you are going to try and change things, you'd better have your wits about you. One thing you can be sure of: your opponents know exactly what's at stake. If you don't know that-if you assume their innocence or naïveté--then what you don't know will be your undoing, and you can take down others with you, so you're carrying a lot of responsibilities on your shoulders.'

As the founder of the Catholic Worker movement during the depression in 1933, Dorothy Day, as she herself admits, had to grow into being a leader that found support and funds to pay the bills for food for her soup kitchens and housing for her nation-wide movement to administer to the hungry, poor, and homeless. As a radical, scrappy young reporter for The Masses and Commonweal newspapers, Dorothy saw poverty as a class war and her mission as using the power of words to accuse, incite, and divide the world into "us" and " them." As the founder and editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper and the leader of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy saw poverty as an opportunity to practice the life of Christ by serving the poor and seeing Christ in each of them and her mission as using the power of words in a human gesture to unite the world in one ethical voice and vision.

Dorothy Day also used her voice and vision as a recognized a global spokesperson for peace and social activism. She had the courage to condemned war and speak out against fascism and the Spanish Civil, nuclear weapons and the attack on Pearl Harbor , World War II and the Catholic Church's support of it, and the Vietnam War and the United States involvement in the war. In the 1950s when American citizens were hurrying to designated fall out shelters as part of the national security drills, Dorothy refused to participate and, instead, led her co-workers to the benches in Central Park . Though this led to her arrest several times, Dorothy would not participate in something in which she did not believe.

To further the cause of peace, Dorothy went to Rome in 1963 and 1965 as a member of the delegations fasting for peace. While in Rome , Dorothy was granted an audience with Pope John and is believed to have been influential in his formulation of the Catholic Church's stance of nonviolence. In 1965, Dorothy confounded the Catholic Peace Fellowship; her acclaimed booklet, "Catholic and Conscientious Objection" went through numerous reprints following its initial print of 150,000 copies. As the United States Bishops publicly acknowledged, it was Dorothy's influence that led them to include pacifism and conscientious objection as acceptable standards for the Catholic conscious in their 1983 letter, The Challenge of Peace.

Dorothy Day was much admired by the world that she helped to change and that admiration has only continued to grow since her death. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and induced into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2002. There are currently over 84,000 websites devoted to Dorothy Day, over 300 books and articles have been written about her, and a collect of her works are housed at the Marquette University Library. In fact, Dorothy Day's own writings continue to be popular, especially her autobiography, The Long Loneliness , and her books on the Catholic Worker movement, Loves and Fishes and Writings from Commonweal .

Dorothy Day's attainment of a integral level of development is reflected in the way that those who knew her speak of her. Robert Coles, in Lives of Moral Leadership, says that Dorothy, "understood the necessity of learning how to get along and work with people to achieve visionary goals-the combining of moral ideas and effective action into leadership." Jim Forest, reflecting on his personal remembrance of Dorothy Day in his book Love Is the Measure , notes that Dorothy Day was a "vital presence..which continues to influence many put it as simply as possible, she gave an example of active love. 'Love is the measure,' she so often said, 'by which we will be judged.'"

Rosalie G. Riegle, in Dorothy Day: Portraits by Those Who Knew Her, notes that Dorothy Day was "a woman who was both ordinary and unique, who maintained her love for the opera while living in the slums, a courageous witness for peace, a devout Catholic who suffered over the sins of the church she loved, and a model of holiness especially appropriate for our times." Finally, Judith Gregory tells us that Dorothy Day lived "not by rules, but by 'deep references.' She was able to give to her friends a part of herself they could use to grow in holiness and wholeness."

Visionary goals; moral ideas and effective action; active love, faith, and hope; and deep references, holiness and wholeness-these are the words describing an integral leader. Dorothy Day serves as an integral leader because her leadership still has an impact on the world years after her death, she is still admired by a diverse population, and those who knew her speak of her in terms of the characteristics of an integral leader. In other words, Dorothy Day was an integral leader whose legacy forever changed not only the landscape of the world in which she lived, but our world as well.

Top of page

Key Documents

  • Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion
    Robert Coles
Coles is one of Dorothy Day's best interpreters. This biography is eminently readable, but powerful in its insights about her significance.
  • The Long Loneliness
    Dorothy Day
A new edition released by Harper Collins which took out Dan Berrigan's introduction and replaced it with one by Robert Coles. Despite this, the book remains Dorothy Day's classic autobiography which has been unavailable until now.
  • Dorothy Day and the Permanent Revolution
    Eileen Egan
A classic short volume that conveys the heart of Dorothy Day's understanding of what the Catholic Worker movement ought to be and shows us its contribution to the Catholic Church.
  • Meditations
    Dorothy Day
A collection of some of Dorothy's earliest reflections on her life in the Catholic Worker.
  • Dorothy Day's Selected Writings
    Edited by Robert Ellsberg
Considered one of the best collection of Dorothy's writings.
  • Loaves and Fishes
    Dorothy Day
The story of The Catholic Worker with introductions by Thomas Merton and Robert Coles. Merton writes that "it explodes the comfortable myth that we have practically solved the 'problem of poverty' in our affluent society."
  • On Pilgrimage
    Dorothy Day
    With a new introduction by Mark and Louise Zwick of the Houston Catholic Worker
Dorothy Day's diary from January - December 1948 available for the first time since its limited printing in 1948. A substantial introduction by Mark and Louise Zwick describes her early life and her commitment to the Catholic Worker Movement. Originally published in 1948; introduction 1999, Eerdman's Press.
  • Lives of Moral Leadership
    Robert Coles
Coles creates a powerful portrait of moral leadership based on stories of people who have led and inspired him. Dorothy Day is included along with, among others, Robert Kennedy and Erick Eriksen.

Top of page

Key Websites on Dorothy Day

Marquette University : Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection :
The university collection contains manuscripts of more than 30 articles and 10 books; The papers of Dorothy Day, her correspondence (largely incoming) with family members, friends, and associates; appointment calendars and notebooks; diaries and retreat notes; correspondence and press accounts concerning speaking engagements and other public activities; articles she wrote for non- Catholic Worker publications; and writings about her. Notable correspondents include Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Eileen Egan, James Forest , Ammon Hennacy, Thomas Merton, and Gordon Zahn. The family correspondence and diaries are sealed until 29 November 2005.

The Catholic Worker Movement
This site includes writings, photos, and biographies of Dorothy Day. The items in the bibliography span eight decades (1916-1982) and represent Dorothy Day's better known writings. The full text of over 650 articles are available here.

National Women's Hall of Fame
Contains an entry on Dorothy Day.

Top of page