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Granddaughter remembers Dorothy Day

By CATRIONA SHAUGNESSY | Friday, September 13, 2013


Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of the revolutionary disciple Dorothy Day, spoke Thursday night at Geddes Hall in remembrance of her grandmother’s works for the implementation of Catholic Social Teaching in society.

Hennessy, a passionate advocate for Day’s belief in the dignity of the human person, spoke of her grandmother’s journey of faith and direct action as well as her own experiences in relation to the Catholic Worker movement.

“Every serious decision I’ve made in my life was influenced by her,” Hennessy said.

Hennessey said she did not come to be involved in Catholic Worker, the movement started by Day and fellow activist, Peter Maurin, until later in her life, after she had raised her own children. During her earlier career, she practiced as an occupational therapist. Hennessy related her professional experience to her new lifestyle of direct service at Mary House, a Catholic Worker institution in Manhattan.

“In occupational therapy we use the term ‘therapeutic use of self’ … simply being there for the women,” she said.

As she began to reflect on her personal memories of her grandmother, Hennessy said how through her insistence on kindness and peacefulness, Day showed her and her eight siblings how to live the extraordinary Gospel in an ordinary setting, particularly in a family setting. 

“She was both ordinary and extraordinary,” Hennessey said.Hennessey said another characteristic of Day was her poignant awareness of the mystical body of Christ across humanity. She said even as a child, Day understood how crises influence human relations in light of God’s presence. She used the example of Day’s reaction to the San Francisco earthquake that occurred in 1906.

“She saw how people responded … how they loved and supported each other. She was only five- or six-years-old at the time,” she said. 

She said this awareness paired with extensive self-directed readings lead Day to develop a keen understanding of social conditions under industrialism and materialism and also served as the spark for the beginning of her faith. Hennessey said after Day’s conversion, she became increasingly active in her quest for social justice. On May 1, 1933, the Catholic worker published its first newspaper. “The paper stressed the participation in the works of mercy to combat the materialism of industrialism and communism,” she said.

In 1931, Hennessey said Day also actively opposed World War II, despite Hitler’s flagrant malevolence, for she stood fast in her understanding of Christ’s call to us to put down the sword. She said Day witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb, another event which provoked Day’s sensitivity to the communion of mankind.

“She described it as the breathing in of our Japanese brothers and sisters,” Hennessy said.

Hennessey said in addition to Day’s immense faith, Day was also an extraordinary writer. “The timelessness of what she says … That’s the most striking quality of her writing,” she said.

Hennessy said the basic principles of Catholic Worker movement are to use non-violent and passive resistance, be voluntary in poverty and to always offer hospitality to others. Through these, she said followers of Day’;s example attempt to live out “authentic discipleship”.

Hennessy said she has fought her own fair share of battles when it comes to the global struggle for human dignity. She said she recently traveled to Afghanistan to participate in a project in which young men from various tribes live together in community, serving as a testament to peace and coexistence in a country of corruption and violence.

“They are faced with the ultimate challenge of pacifism,” Hennessy.said.

Hennessy said she participates in multiple global causes, including the Guantanamo holding of Muslim prisoners and the fight against the development of drones at Hancock Airbase in upstate New York. As a result of her involvement in these causes, she said she has two upcoming trial dates, which, she claims, is what she and her fellow activists strive for.

“The goal is to bring the issues to trial,” she.said

Also, Hennessy expressed no reservations concerning the possibility of indictment. Rather, she views it as an opportunity.

“Penance,” she said, “Penance for collective sinfulness.”