NEW YORK – Whatever eventually happens with Dorothy Day’s formal cause for Catholic sainthood, citizens of her native New York aren’t waiting around. Moved by respect for her social activism and love for the poor, a new State Island ferry has been named for the famed co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.
On March 25, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that “The Dorothy Day” is one of three new 4,500-passenger ferry boats under construction by Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City, Florida. It’s expected to arrive in 2022.
“Dorothy Day lived a life of tremendous selflessness and service. I can think of no greater way to honor her beloved legacy than by having her name on this new ferry boat connecting Manhattan and Staten Island,” de Blasio said.
“Day loved Staten Island, and this naming will allow others to learn of her inspiring work as a brave activist and journalist,” he said.
In an email to Crux, George Horton, an executive committee member of the Dorothy Day Guild, called it a “blessing to see Dorothy honored as her journey progresses towards canonization and that a ferry bearing her name will transport workers, to whose dignity she dedicated the Catholic Worker Movement.”
Day was born in 1897 and raised in Chicago. She made her way to New York as an adult, first living on the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village before moving to Staten Island in the 1920s, where she raised her daughter Tamar.
It was there she was received into the Catholic Church in 1927 at Our Lady Help of Christians Church. She maintained a small cottage on the island until she died in 1980 at the age of 83.
In 1933, back in New York City, Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement alongside French philosopher Peter Maurin. The rest of her life was dedicated to social activism for the poor and marginalized and for civil rights through Catholic tradition.
They opened two soup kitchens, self-sustaining farm communities and a daily newspaper, The Catholic Worker. Day eventually moved back to Staten Island to run a cooperative farm with Maurin and other members of the movement. She never took a salary.
Day was declared a servant of God in 2000, putting her on the path to sainthood. In 2012, her cause received support from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
During his visit to the United States in 2015, Pope Francis singled her out as an exemplary American with the likes of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Merton in his address to the US Congress.
“Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith and the example of the saints,” the Holy Father said of Day at the time.
In a statement on the ferry announcement, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York called Day a “brave, loving woman who cherished both areas of our city and the people who live there.”
“How appropriate that a ferry transporting people would honor a believing apostle of peace, justice, and charity who devoted her life to moving people from war to peace, from emptiness to fullness, from isolation to belonging,” he continued.
Kate Hennessy, a granddaughter of Day and author of the book Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, welcomed the news.
“My grandmother loved Staten Island and treasured her trips on the Staten Island Ferry, the rare time when she could relax and be free of her many responsibilities,” Hennessy said in a statement. “While we in her family may find it difficult to line up her selfless work with honors such as this, we nevertheless thank Mayor de Blasio and Staten Islanders for this generous consideration.”
New York City Council member Joseph Borelli further noted in a statement that “it will be an honor to ride on this boat dedicated to her memory, and even more so when she is declared a Roman Catholic saint.”
The boat named for Day and its two sister ships are part of a $300 million investment in the ferry service. They’re the first new boats in the fleet since 2006. Some of the new features in the larger design include updated technology, and an upper-deck promenade that serves as an outdoor “walking track.” It will also be better equipped to handle extreme weather.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg