Dorothy Day and Loretto
By Kathleen DeSutter Jordan
Perhaps the deepest and most inspiring connection between Loretto and the Catholic Worker was the profound respect and deep friendship between Dorothy and Mary Luke.Kathleen DeSutter Jordan
I was blessed to have been taught by the Sisters of Loretto from kindergarten through college, and to have spent several years as a member of the Loretto Community. Later I knew and worked closely with Dorothy Day at the New York Catholic Worker, from the late 1960s until her death in 1980. So I can identify with a quote on the Loretto Community website (12/2/2019) from Jane Peckham Stoever, “The influence of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, and the Loretto spirit, are a heady mix.”
A heady mix indeed!
Much was held in common between Dorothy and Loretto — both, at core, devoted to living Gospel-centered lives. Traditionally, primary for Loretto was the vocation of teaching, on all levels. The daily practice of the Works of Mercy — spiritual and corporal — and Dorothy’s absolute commitment to Christian nonviolence were and are hallmarks of the Catholic Worker movement. Voluntary poverty and life with the poor undergirded the Worker and reflect a lifestyle not typical of Loretto. Sister Marian McAvoy summed it up this way during a recent phone call, “The kind of poverty the Catholic Worker dealt with was new to us. You didn’t go to Nerinx Hall and see the kind of people you see at the Catholic Worker.” On the other hand, the Loretto spirit is manifest in a vivid, joyful sense of community and friendship. There’s an iconic Catholic Worker story about the late socialist leader John Cort who, as a recent Harvard graduate and convert to Catholicism, heard Dorothy speak in 1936. It was surely her living example of Christian discipleship that compelled him to join the Worker movement, but it was also, he testified, because “she seemed to be having so much fun!”
It was a grace to have so many Loretto Community members visit or volunteer at the New York Catholic Worker over the years I was there. The list rivals the number of ice cream flavors at Baskin-Robbins. It included Ann Manganaro, Mary Catherine Rabbitt, Susan Swain, Paulette Peterson and Diane Fassel. Loretto members also volunteered at, and started, Catholic Worker houses: Ann Manganaro, Mary Ann McGivern and Mary Ann Gleason at Karen House in St. Louis; Anna Koop, with faithful assistance from Martha Crawley, PJ Manion and many others at the Denver Catholic Worker House.
While speaking out against prejudice and injustice was part and parcel of Loretto’s heritage, performing acts of civil disobedience and risking arrest and jail time was not until later. But such were the warp and woof of the Catholic Worker from its very foundation (in fact, Dorothy had protested war and injustice and served hard jail time well before the Worker began). Time and history have bridged this gap, and in recent decades Loretto and Catholic Worker members have shared many concerns (and picket lines) on issues such as war and weapons, racial equality and prejudice, farm worker rights, fracking and pipelines, and the School of the Americas.
Whether Dorothy ever visited the Loretto Motherhouse on one of her many bus trips across country, I am unaware. But in the early 1970s she enjoyed the gracious hospitality of a Loretto community in Kansas City, Mo., and likewise in Denver. Perhaps the deepest and most inspiring connection between Loretto and the Catholic Worker was the profound respect and deep friendship between Dorothy and Mary Luke Tobin SL. I was going up to visit Luke one evening when she lived in New York City, and brought a copy of one of Dorothy’s books as a gift. Dorothy had inscribed it to Mary Luke: “Thank you for all you’ve done for women.”
Cardinal John O’Connor first announced the possibility of beginning the cause for Dorothy’s canonization on Dec. 9, 1997, during a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. At an evening Mass at St. Patrick’s on Dec. 8, 2021, the New York Archdiocese celebrated the completion of its preparation of all materials required to move forward the cause of Dorothy’s canonization. The materials were subsequently sent to Rome.
That evening I couldn’t help imagining Dorothy and Mary Luke looking down on the cavernous cathedral. Mary Luke would definitely have wished for far more women on the altar (some ordained) and for a stronger emphasis on peace-making in the liturgy. Dorothy would be noticing the people in the very back of the church — “Do you think she needs a warmer coat?” — or on the sides — “What country do you think that family is from?” How they would be enjoying one another’s company! How they have guided each of us forward, ever closer to the One whom our hearts seek.
Read or download the entire Spring 2022 issue of Loretto Magazine here.