'Entertaining Angels': Dorothy Day's Faith Journey

Dorothy Day, often described as "an American Mother Teresa," gave up many things for her faith: a career in journalism, the possibility of a home and husband, material possessions, money, a standard lifestyle, pride, privacy, security and vanity. A human rights activist, her devotion was expressed in doing. She founded the Catholic Worker Movement, which provided hostels for the homeless, and published a paper. A movie about her life, "Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story," came out last year, starring Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen. The film, made by Paulist Pictures and produced by Father Ellwood Keiser, CSP, (those who also did "Romero") and released by Warner Brothers. A powerful story, it inspires and invites viewers to share her faith journey. The movie was awarded the approval of Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Costello of Syracuse, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Communications. "Dorothy Day lived one of the great Christian lives of our century," he said in a statement. "The film . . . is a timely reminder of the continuing importance of her witness to peace and service to the poor." It begins with an aging Day, jailed for joining in a protest for disenfranchised workers. During her incarceration, a traumatized woman is thrown into her cell. In a representative response, Day reaches out and comforts her while softly singing a hymn. The story covers Day’s time as a brazen, tenacious young journalist during the 20s, working for a leftist New York newspaper, "The Call, " and her adventurous days in Greenwich Village with other artists, passionate about their ideas. After an affair with a co-worker, she has an abortion upon his insistence, and devastated, returns home to find that he has left her. She retreats to an idyllic spot on Staten Island to recover, spending her days in reflection and solitude, and later becomes involved with a former friend, Forrest. She is also intrigued with the small Catholic Church there, drawn in by a generous and joyful nun. Day sees her caring for the community’s poor, sharing the small amount she had to help them survive. Beginning to spend more time there, she probes and questions Catholicism, while befriending those in need. Upon her discovery that she and her lover have conceived a child, she says touchingly, "I didn’t think God would give me another chance." Determined to keep the baby, but unable to obtain a commitment from him, Day begins building her own life again. Her journey into Catholicism continues, culminating in a beautiful baptism scene where Day and her infant daughter, Tamar, come into the Church. The subsequent scenes are several years later, when they return to New York City, and share her brother’s family apartment. Even though her living conditions are crowded and finances strained, she observes that the city’s impoverished are suffering much more severely. It is at this point that she meets her mentor, Peter Maurin, an itinerant French Christian brother and philosopher, played by Martin Sheen. Their friendship becomes the foundation of her advocacy for the underprivileged. As the movement grows, it comes to the attention of New York’s archbishop, portrayed by Brian Keith. He comes to her with concerns from some of his Church benefactors about the group’s politics. She retorts, "if you help the poor, you’re called a saint; if you ask why they’re poor, you’re called a communist." She becomes so single-handedly focused on her mission that some of her staff rebels, and she must reevaluate herself and reach out to them again. This echoes her spiritual struggle; that choosing to follow Christ is a constant recommitment, and sinners can become sanctified. Also, similar to Mother Teresa, she illustrates that helping one person at a time can make a profound difference in the lives of all. Copyright ?1997 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

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