The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist

The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist

by Dorothy Day

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060617516
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 106,665
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

"Dorothy Day, is a modern Catholic saint in the tradition of St. Francis. Her book is an absorbingly well-written series of pictures of her work and that of those she has gathered around her connection with the Catholic Worker, its hospitality house and its community farm. I rejoice with the new hope for mankind because of the kind of work that she and her associates are doing."- Norman Thomas

Read an Excerpt

Part One

Searching

THE GENERATIONS BEFORE

When we were little children, my brothers and sister and I, we used to sit around the supper table at night and listen to our mother talk about "when I was a little girl." Our father worked nights on a morning newspaper, so we seldom saw him and our evening meals were leisurely. We never learned much about his family from mother except that he was from Cleveland, Tennessee, and that his people despised her because she was a Northerner.

Cleveland is a small town just over the border from Rome, Georgia, where my grandmother, Mary Mee, was born. She married Dr. Sam Houston Day who was a surgeon and served in the Confederate army. My mother's father, Napoleon Bonaparte Satterlee, was from Marlboro, New York, a chairmaker, who went to war very young, was taken prisoner and came home with tuberculosis of the larynx, which made him speak, the remaining years of his life, in a hoarse whisper. My mother recalls bringing him eggnog with whiskey and sipping it on the way, and he used to reward her for her service by gay flattery, calling her Graceful. Her name was Grace.

That house in Marlboro still stands on Route 9, and I have driven past it often and past the Episcopal church where my mother was baptized and the churchyard where doubtless my forebears are buried. If I wish to go back still further, on Charity Hummel's side (she was my mother's grandmother), I could go to the cemetery at New Paltz, and on the Washburn side to the Massachusetts branch of the family, since tradition has it that there were nine brothers, all of them captains of whalers, and all lost at sea save a Christian Washburnwho married Charity.

Tradition! How rich a word that is. To a thinking child it means a great deal. Children all love to hear stories of when their parents were young, and of their parents before them. It gives the child a sense of continuity.

Aunt Cassie, my mother's aunt, used to skate down the river from Poughkeepsie to Marlboro to bake a batch of bread and cookies and then skate back again. Was she in love then? And did love give strength to her limbs and wings to her feet? It was a sad love story, the story of her affair with one of the engineers who built the railroad bridge over the Hudson. But Aunt Del was a telegrapher in Baltimore, a Russellite or a Bible Christian, and helped support the family, and Anna, my grandmother, had enough. to do with her five children and her invalid husband. So Aunt Cassie had to stay unmarried to take care of her mother, Charity Hummel Washburn, who had been married herself at fourteen and borne eighteen children of whom only six lived.

Charity's husband had been captain of a whaler which sailed up the Hudson with a cargo of whale oil. He fell from a mast and cracked his head and was never quite right after that, running down Delafield Street in his night shirt and finally drowning in a brook.

How we loved to hear these stories and how welcome our warm house was as we heard of terrible winters with the Hudson freezing over so that skating and ice-boating were commonplace.

Tradition! We scarcely know the word any more. We are afraid to be either proud of our ancestors or ashamed of them. We scorn nobility in name and in fact. We cling to a bourgeois mediocrity which would make it appear we are all Americans, made in the image and likeness of George Washington, all of a pattern, all prospering if we are good, and going down in the world if we are bad. These are attitudes the Irish, the Italian, the Lithuanian, the Slovak and all races begin to acquire in school. So they change their names, forget their birthplace, their language, and no longer listen to their mothers when they say, "When I was a little girl in Russia, or Hungary, or Sicily." They lose their cult and their culture and their skills, and leave their faith and folk songs and costumes and handcrafts, and try to be something which they call "an American."

"Tradition," G. K. Chesterton says, "is democracy extended through time. Tradition means giving the vote to that most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. Tradition is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who are walking about."

I wonder if those stories of our ancestors took away the fear of death that comes to us all, or whether it mitigated it.

Aunt Cassie is by now united to her love. Grandfather Napoleon is now young and dashing once more and free from all pain. But their tragedy, their pain made their lives a rich and colorful tapestry for us to gaze at, a Berlioz requiem with its glory and mourning to listen to.

Did they believe? What did they believe? We never asked these questions. Do happy children ask these questions? Ecclesiastes said, "Only this I have found, that God made man right and he hath entangled himself with an infinity of questions."



"WHAT ABOUT GOD?"

We did not search for God when we were children. We took Him for granted. We were at some time taught to say our evening prayers. "Now I lay me," and "Bless my father and mother." This done, we prayed no more unless a thunderstorm made us hide our heads under the covers and propitiate the Deity by promising to be good.

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The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
mc76NYC More than 1 year ago
Dorothy Day was an incredible person with a lot of courage and personal conviction. She inspired a lot of people by her service to those on the outskirts of society, motivated as she was by her Christian faith. The Long Loneliness is her own reflections on her life and what inspired her to do her work. It is a great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oh my goodness, this is the best book ever. I've read it sooo many times. First of all I love Dorothy Day and she is my absolute role model. This book is so true to her it starts out from the very beginning of her life, it really gives you a glipse into who she was and her vision of the Catholic Worker movement. This is such a great book!It's oh so inspiring
pjsullivan on LibraryThing 7 days ago
This book reads like an autobiography, but is actually about the author's spiritual conversion to the Catholic church. A very significant conversion it was because it resulted in the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy Day became so dedicated to the church that she transcended it, into the realm of true Christianity. Aware that her church was not doing all that it should in following Christ, it was inevitable that she would form a splinter group, without breaking from that church, to practice authentic Christianity. As she was the mother of a child, it would have to be a lay group. Her meeting with Peter Maurin provided the catalyst, and the rest is history. She had found her life's work, and became one of the most influential Catholics of the twentieth century. As a child, she was not religious, except for a few formal prayers. "We did not search for God when we were children." At university, she saw religion as "an opiate of the people and not a very attractive one." But by page 132 she writes, "I was surprised that I found myself beginning to pray daily." Then, "I began to go to Mass regularly on Sunday mornings." This book is about her gradual transformation from unchurched Bohemian to candidate for sainthood, how it happened and what she thought about it.
Ganeshaka on LibraryThing 7 days ago
My local library has a small cart of discarded and donated books. The items on it are a very mixed bag, and purchaseable at garage sale prices - $1.00 hardcover, $.50 paperback. It's a great little petty cash raising gimmick, and I invariably leave, after my weekly visit, with one or two books, of a genre or author I might never otherwise have encountered.Thus I found myself perusing The Long Loneliness - the autobiography of Dorothy Day, an American journalist, social activist, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker. As an ex-altarboy, and secular humanist, I tend to hiss and emit clouds of steam, like a vampire sprinkled with holy water, when approaching literature concerning my former church. Why? Well for starters, too many childhood hours lost on catechism class, and Sunday Mass, when I could have been playing softball or fishing.But I was hooked by Day's first person narration from page one - she begins in the interior of a confessional booth. She clearly had a journalist's hooks. And she didn't, like me, start out a Catholic. Day was the child of a newspaper man, and traveled the country. She experienced the Great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. She was nine. Her family, struggling financially, then moved to Chicago, where she won a scholarship for her proficiency in Greek and Latin. As a young adult, she ultimately settled in New York City. Day was a voracious reader, a bit of a mystic, and preoccupied from an early age with social justice. Writers like Dostoyevsky, Jack London, Upton Sinclair and activists like Eugene Debs and the I.W.W. formed her world view.In New York City, in 1917, when she was 20 years old, she began her own career as a journalist and activist, writing for The Call, and later, The Masses. One of the highlights of her story is her description of these years of political ferment from her perspective at the intersection of a movement that was part Socialist, part I.W.W., part anarchist, and part liberal.Then came her Bohemian years during which she bore a child in a common-law marriage. The community she experienced during that time led to an epiphany that life without an engaged social community was like a long loneliness. This lead to her eventual conversion to Catholicism. It was not an easy choice because her common law partner was an atheist, and they could not marry or cohabit after her conversion.Then began Day's lifelong association with Peter Maurin, and the founding of the organization known as the Catholic Worker. Together, they developed a journal with a wide circulation, helped fund a network of hospices, and supported the activities of a number of labor organizations. Their policies, such as opposition to Generalissimo Franco, did not always square with the Catholic Church. The highlight of this portion of her story is her detailed description of the communal living of the journal's staff. Abbie Hoffman once praised Day as "the first hippie". As one who recalls those days and that shared lifestyle, I have to agree that I got the same sense of deja vu while reading of the characters who drifted through the Catholic Workers offices and living quarters.Day died in 1980. A movie has been made of her life, starring Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen. She has been proposed for sainthood, and deemed a "Servant of God" by Pope John Paul II (the first of four stages in an investigation of sainthood.) Whether or not she attains that honor, her life was fascinating and inspiring. In the tumult of The Great Depression, she made lemonade out of lemon rinds. Her example was a reminder that poverty can be a great virtue and a source of spiritual growth and community. In the times we live in now, and may face in the future, that alone is a reason to read her autobiography.
devandecicco on LibraryThing 7 days ago
A fascinating view into the life of an amazing woman.
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