Below is an excerpt of an essay written by Pax Christi USA communications director Judy Coode for the June 2023 issue of “In our time,” the newsletter of the Dorothy Day Guild which was established in 2005 to promote Dorothy’s work and writings, and to help strengthen the campaign for her canonization. Use this link to read Judy’s entire piece at the Dorothy Day Guild website.
It’s 2007. I’m creating an account on Facebook, the social media platform that recently opened itself to people who are not active university students. (At this point, it has been almost 20 years since I graduated from college.) I fill in the contact information—not everything, but some basics—and add a profile photo.
My personal page offers a space to include a favorite quote. I know exactly which one I will use. I do not hesitate to type in: “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system,” Dorothy Day.
(Of course, those who have studied Dorothy closely will know that the quote is unreliable; see Brian Terrell’s piece in the April 16, 2012 National Catholic Reporter on the story behind the distortion: “Dorothy Day’s ‘filthy, rotten system’ likely wasn’t hers at all.” It’s a powerful saying, but it’s not on my Facebook page anymore.
For almost my entire adult life, I have worked in faith-based advocacy, mostly in Catholic circles, fighting this filthy, rotten system that we live in. It is almost impossible to do this work without realizing the effect of Dorothy Day on our mission and our message; she has permeated my life profoundly and irrevocably—images of her in photographs and as an icon are displayed in the Pax Christi USA office where I work. She was a supporter and mentor when Pax Christi USA formed 50 years ago and gave the keynote address at the first national assembly in the early 1970s. But if I had stayed put in the place where I was born and raised, it is possible I would never have heard of her at all.
My large, Southern, Catholic family embraced our faith as an integral part of our identity. Service was understood to be an important component of life: one of my great-grandmothers spent decades as an advocate for incarcerated people, organizing Catholic Masses at the state penitentiary, teaching prisoners how to knit, and providing housing and job assistance after release. (My sister still has several of our great-grandmother’s scrapbooks from the early decades of the 20th century, filled with birthday-Christmas* cards from the men who Granny ministered to; I remember as a child realizing that almost all of the cards were signed with their inmate number, not their name.) *My great-grandmother’s birthday was December 25.
Other than some charitable activities, our family and wider church community were fairly conservative. My teachers from kindergarten through high school were Dominican sisters, members of a semi-cloistered community who wear full habits and receive new names at their final vows ceremony.
The women who taught me all those years were good people: they strongly believed in education, they were faith-filled, devoted to their pupils, and they instilled in their students a delight for beauty, music, and the arts. We were taught to honor the Blessed Mother, to recite the rosary, the Angelus, and the Regina Caeli. (A few years ago, a group of friends decided to say the rosary together, something we had never done before. Who was the only one who knew the Hail Holy Queen? Me. Thank you, Dominican sisters.)
However, I have no recollection from my elementary or high school years of any analysis of the power system in this country, either economic or political. We were taught to be charitable, with the strong assumption (based in reality) that we were of the privileged class. We were expected to pray for and pity those who have less, but little to no discussion was held about how fortunate lifestyles connect to lives of desperation and poverty. …
Use this link to read the entire essay on the Dorothy Day Guild website.