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Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother

4.0 2
by Kate Hennessy

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The life and work of Dorothy Day—the iconic, celebrated, and controversial Catholic whom Pope Francis called a “great American”—told with illuminating detail by her granddaughter.

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a prominent Catholic, writer, social activist, and co-founder of a movement dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. Her life has


The life and work of Dorothy Day—the iconic, celebrated, and controversial Catholic whom Pope Francis called a “great American”—told with illuminating detail by her granddaughter.

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a prominent Catholic, writer, social activist, and co-founder of a movement dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. Her life has been revealed through her own writings as well as the work of historians, theologians, and academics. What has been missing until now is a more personal account from the point of view of someone who knew her well. Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty is a frank and reflective, heartfelt and humorous portrayal as written by her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy.

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty challenges ideas of plaster saints and of saintly women. Day is an unusual candidate for sainthood. Before her conversion, she lived what she called a “disorderly life,” during which she had an abortion and then gave birth to a child out of wedlock. After her conversion, she was both an obedient servant and a rigorous challenger of the Church. She was a prolific writer whose books are still in print and widely read. While tenderly rendered, this account will show her as driven to do good but dogmatic, loving but judgmental, in particular with regards to her only daughter, Tamar. She was also full of humor and laughter, and could light up any room she entered.

An undisputed radical heroine, called “a saint for the occupy era” by The New Yorker, Day’s story unfolds against a backdrop of New York City from the 1910s to the 1980s and world events spanning from World War I to Vietnam. This thoroughly researched and intimate biography provides a valuable and nuanced portrait of an undersung and provocative American woman.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dorothy Day, named a Servant of God by the Vatican, was just “Granny” to Hennessy. In this intimate, detailed biography, Hennessy depicts her grandmother as a very human being. By the third chapter, Day has been jailed, failed at suicide, chosen abortion, lived in sin, and borne a daughter out of wedlock. Then she converted to Roman Catholicism and eventually founded the Catholic Worker houses of hospitality. Hennessy’s memoir emphasizes Day’s role in her family: mothering her daughter, Tamar Hennessy (often discordantly), and grandmothering Tamar’s nine children (Hennessy is the ninth). The memoir spills as much about Tamar as about Day. Tamar moved often with her children and spinning wheel, always dragging along her deflating self-esteem. Hennessy quotes Day’s love letters to Tamar’s father and interviews Tamar about her memories. She also weaves in lines from Day’s columns for the Catholic Worker newspaper, splices in the Hennessy siblings’ stories, embeds quotes, and reveals the backstory of a magnetic woman who was “not always a clear-eyed visionary.” Hennessy has created an amazing tapestry of Day’s life and the memories she left with her loved ones. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Kate Hennessy’s The World Will Be Saved By Beauty lives in my heart, my mind, and my soul. With a great granddaughters’ great love, compassionate understanding, and often painful truth, Dorothy Day, her family, and the history of the Catholic Worker movement are newly remembered for a new generation by a brilliant writer and family archivist. Frankly, it is a must-read.”
—Martin Sheen, actor and activist

"What a gift! The World Will Be Saved By Beauty is revelatory and compulsively readable. Dorothy Day’s letters and diaries are marvelous, but they raise almost as many questions as they answer, particularly about Day’s relationship with her daughter Tamar. Granddaughter to the one, daughter to the other, Kate Hennessy grew up inside that relationship – breathed it in like air. It nourished and sustained her, and I suspect it still does, but it was immensely complicated, for the two women were in so many ways worlds apart, and Hennessy doesn’t pretend they weren’t. She writes with absolute candor, immense tenderness, and the kind of artistry – much like her grandmother’s – that works small miracles without ever calling attention to itself."
—Carol Flinders, author of Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics

Kate Hennessy's superb new biography of her grandmother, Dorothy Day, is an absolutely fascinating, deeply personal and beautifully written story of one of the most important women—Catholic or otherwise—of our time. Part biography, part detective story, part spiritual memoir, Hennessy brings vividly alive the brilliant, charismatic and faith-filled apostle of social justice who will one day be known as St. Dorothy Day."
—James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage and My Life with the Saints.

“Many years from now, when, presumably, Dorothy Day has been added to the canon of saints, readers will look to Kate Hennessy’s stunning work to be reminded that holy people are actual human beings. Through Day’s relationship with her daughter Tamar, she emerges in her full complex humanity, struggling like any parent, astonishingly insightful one moment, oblivious the next. Ultimately, Kate Hennessy’s book tells the universal story of how hard it is fully to know the people we love the most, of the struggle to find forgiveness and healing, of the many forms of conversion, and of the many aspects of that beauty—as Dostoevsky wrote—that will save the world.”
—Robert Ellsberg, editor of The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day

Library Journal
The youngest of Dorothy Day's nine grandchildren, Hennessy offers an unflinching portrait of the celebrated Catholic social activist and cofounder of the Catholic Workers Movement.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-11-09
A rare glimpse into the life of one of America's most revered social activists.Hennessy (Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker: The Miracle of Our Continuance, 2016), granddaughter of Dorothy Day (1897-1980), utilizes family correspondence, Day's journals, and her own memories to construct a detailed, riveting biography. In many ways, this book is a dual biography, not only of the author's grandmother, but also her mother, Tamar, who was Day's only daughter. Indeed, the complex mother-daughter relationship between Dorothy and Tamar makes up a large portion of the book. Hennessy dives right into Day's unusual and chaotic life. Even as a very young woman, Day was on her own, working varied jobs, coming into and out of abject poverty, experiencing heady love affairs, and always writing. With time, she funneled her energies into three pursuits: her newfound Catholic faith, her daughter, and her great creation, the Catholic Worker, which was primarily a newspaper but which was also a way of life for many activists. Readers will be intrigued to learn of Day's intimate life story from the 1920s through the 1940s, especially, with the rise of the Catholic Worker as a parallel tale. Somewhat estranged from her mother during the 1950s, Tamar would return to New York and to the Worker, eventually taking it on as her own life's work. Hennessy presents her grandmother in full. Though her respect for her is great, she also recognizes the challenges she faced and the many facets of her personality and life that prove she, like anyone else, was far from perfect. Perhaps no theme so dominates the book as much as love: the love between mother and daughter, Day's often unrequited love for Forster Batterham, Tamar's father, and Day's love for helping the poor, which drove her life's work and was inspired by her love for God.Fascinating, well-told, candid, and tender.

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Meet the Author

Kate Hennessy is a writer and the youngest of Dorothy Day’s nine grandchildren. Her work has been included in Best American Travel Writing, and she is the author of Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother and, in collaboration with the photographer Vivian Cherry, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker: The Miracle of our Continuance. Kate divides her time between Ireland and Vermont.

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Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Lindawer 11 days ago
I picked this up this evening and as yet have read only the first couple of chapters . So far I have haven't been disappointed. How many saints have an inside look at their humanity and spirituality provided by a direct descendent? Yet this is what her granddaughter has given us. The lives of saints, canonized or not, are marked by an authenticity of discipleship wherein the longing for union with the divine necessarily takes them through the depths of their humanity. Every saint is saintly in their own way and every family is dysfunctional in its own way. In this book, Kate Hennessey brings the two together to provide unique insight into the force of love permeating both.
LeighKramer 3 months ago
I'm not sure the first time I heard about Dorothy Day but I'd guess it was in one of my college sociology classes. Her work with the poor was unprecedented when it first began and the Catholic Worker continues to impact us today. However, I was hazy on the particular details of Day's work and life. When I saw her granddaughter had written this biography, I was curious about what I'd find. This is about Dorothy, yes, but it is also a portrait of her daughter Tamar's life, as well as Kate. I'm still not sure what to make of all I encountered. Although her granddaughter writes this account, it is a fairly unflinching one. Kate does not shy away from depicting Dorothy's lesser qualities and mistakes. Nor does she shy away from showing the ways Dorothy's parenting choices negatively impacted Tamar and thus Tamar's children. In fact, there were more than a few points where I felt great relief to not be related to Dorothy Day. To be clear, Dorothy Day did a great deal of good. She advocated for civil rights decades before many other white people did. She interacted with and related to the poor in a way few others did. I can understand why those who benefitted from the Catholic Worker's efforts would want her declared a saint. She was tireless in her advocacy and her Catholic faith informed it all. But this highlights the discrepancy between her professional and personal worlds, a discrepancy those who are children of many pastors, leaders, and public servants will unfortunately relate to. This is one of the most interesting aspects of this book. The book was slow-going at times but it came alive for me in Chapter 16 when Kate takes a more active role in the narrative in her teenage years. She is also more active in the Catholic Worker, as well as trying to get her mother to become more forthcoming about the painful periods in her past. I was also fascinated by the ways Dorothy's Catholic conversion did not translate to the rest of her family. Tamar eventually left the Catholic church and very few of Dorothy's grandchildren are involved. What meant so much to her did not have the same effect on others, although this could be due to her stridency in the matter. Day's legacy is still strong some 35+ years later. There are still plenty of Catholic Worker homes in the US and around the world. I may have conflicted feelings about the woman herself but I'm glad to know more about her work and family. Disclosure: I was provided an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.