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.