Dorothy Day is my home girl

A reflection by Molly Gabaldo

I remember vividly the day that I was first introduced to Dorothy Day. A woman, communist converted to Catholic, seeking ways to be both a pacifist while fervently fighting for the underserved, the misunderstood, and the forgotten. Dorothy threw herself into her mission, the definition of ‘all in’; to the point of controversially housing her own daughter in the homeless shelter that she had created.  Dorothy’s deep love of those she served resonated with me as a freshman in Catholic Studies 101 at St. Ambrose University. A woman of her time, engrossed in the current events of the Cold War and a passionate seeker of justice in the midst of growing U.S. poverty, Dorothy eventually turned to the Church for answers she could not create within herself despite her own sinfulness. Dorothy Day was the real deal. Dorothy Day is my home girl.

Today, I read the writings of Dorothy Day with new insight. I read them in the light of my own attempt live alongside those that I seek to walk with on their own journeys of redemption in the Back of the Yards.  On September 26th, 1954 Dorothy wrote:

 This morning after mass, as I left the church, I saw a man, dirty and coatless approaching.  He could walk straight but he was shambling.  When he got in front of the church he stopped, kicked off his lace-less shoes in a violent gesture which landed them in the middle of Second Ave, and turned and went into the church in his stocking feet. The street cleaner looked after him and then went out-swept up the shoes into his dustpan and dumping them in his cart, trundled them away.  He would probably be on our clothes line, which forms at 8 o’clock when we give out all the clothes we have on hand.

Little Flower (St. Therese of Liseux) begged God to let her always see reality.  Things as they really were, so her love would be true and real. 

(The Duty of Delight, pg. 211)

Reading this passage of Dorothy’s this morning, my heart cried out for our beloved community member, Terry. Terry squats a few blocks from the Port Ministries campus, collecting a number of forgotten and unwanted items from street corners and alleyways of the Back of the Yards; his own ministry of turning his plot of self-claimed land into a home. Milk crates with tablecloths become a lavish dining room, lamps create a sense of security despite the lack of electricity in his humble space. Terry’s pride in his abode was displayed this summer when Hope House was dumping our various rooms into our alleyway. One morning I found Terry awaiting us at the bottom of our stairs, inquiring, “when are you putting more gifts in the alley?” Last week I received heart breaking news that the City of Chicago garbage service had removed Terry’s home and thrown away all of his belongings. Granted, this was probably not the first time that Terry had experienced such tragedy, but all in the same; not only did they strip him of his sense of security, they stripped him of his pride.

The man in Dorothy’s story may have experienced similar feelings when emerging from church to find his shoes so easily swept away by the street cleaner. This man and Terry’s ‘reality’ is that even the things that are believed to be their own, their security, can be so easily stripped away buy a society who has been taught to see shoes haphazardly tossed into the street as a nuisance and a home created by a man struggling to survive as garbage on public property.  So frequently I find myself in the role of the street cleaner or the garbage man in these stories; struggling to look past the barriers that being impoverished can create in the way that those who seek services interact with their community. Terry gives us an opportunity to seek and show mercy and understanding and allow our love to be ‘true and real’. Dorothy teaches us how.