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Cardinal Dolan Calls for Sainthood of 'Liberal Hero' Dorothy Day

New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has moved forward in his push to canonize Dorothy Day, described by many as a Catholic liberal hero, as the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the anniversary of her birth and death.

Day, born Nov. 8, 1897, was an American social activist, journalist and devout Roman Catholic who dedicated her life to fighting for the poor and homeless. She died on Nov. 29, 1980.

"I am convinced she is a saint for our time," Cardinal Dolan said at this month's United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting, where members voted unanimously to move forward with her canonization cause. Dolan said that Day exemplifies "what's best in Catholic life, that ability we have to be 'both-and' not 'either-or.'"

Some have questioned Day's potential place among Roman Catholic saints because of her strong opposition to statehood, with some calling her an anarchist, and for the abortion she underwent as a young woman, which goes against official Catholic Church doctrine.

Cardinal Dolan has sent roughly 100 copies of the native New Yorker's biography to civic officials, including NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, The New York Times reported.

Day was born to a nonobservant Protestant family, and after dropping out of the University of Illinois she returned to New York. After converting to Catholicism in 1927, she credited her spiritual awakening to the birth of her daughter, and began working as a socialist writer and dedicated many efforts to helping the poor. Some of her more liberal positions put her at odds with the church hierarchy of her lifetime, however, and not a single Roman Catholic bishop attended her funeral in 1980.

Dolan has acknowledged the mistakes that Day made when she was a young woman, listing her "sexual immorality, religious searching, pregnancy out of wedlock and an abortion."

He insisted, however, that after she converted, she flourished and became an icon "for everything right about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life."

The New York Times article positions Cardinal Dolan as a member of the conservative right-wing and notes surprise for his interest in pursuing sainthood for Day. Commentating on the report, says the Times piece depicts Day as a hero to many political liberals but fails to mention that Day had a very strong Catholic outlook, and had an intense devotion to the Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion.

"For quite a while, the church at the grass roots in the United States has been fairly badly splintered to a kind of peace-and-justice crowd on the left and pro-life crowd on the right," said John L. Allen Jr., senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. "And Day is one of those few figures who has traction in both those groups."

"As we struggle at this opportune moment to try to show how we are losing our freedoms in the name of individual rights, Dorothy Day is a very good woman to have on our side," added Cardinal Francis E. George, Archbishop of Chicago, during the bishops' meeting.

Martha Hennessy, Day's granddaughter, who volunteers in the East Village at Mary House, a Catholic Worker refuge for the poor that Day founded, has said she hopes less focus is placed on her grandmother's abortion and more on the work that she did.

"I wish we would focus on the birth of her child more than on her abortion because that's what really played a role in her conversion," Hennessy said. Her mother, Tamar, was Day's only child. "It's hard for me to hear these men talking about my mother and grandmother that way."

The Dorothy Day Guild, a website in support of the Catholic woman's canonization, notes that she practiced a life of voluntary poverty, the works of mercy, and working for justice and peace.

"Her pilgrimage ended at Maryhouse in New York City on November 29, 1980, where she died among the poor," the organization writes.

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