Dorothy Day’s unpretentious account of the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux sheds light on the depth of Day’s Catholic spirituality and illustrates why Thérèse’s simplicity and humility are so vital for today. Whether you are called to the active life like Day or a more hidden existence like Thérèse, you will discover that these paths have much in common and can lead you to a love that has the power to transform you in ways that are unexpected and consequential.
Now back in print, this short biography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Dorothy Day expresses the surprising yet profound connection between Day—the founder of the Catholic Worker movement who was praised by Pope Francis for her passion for justice and dedication to her faith—and the beloved saint best known for her Little Way.
When Day first read St. Thérèse’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul in 1928, she called it “pious pap.” At the time, Day—a social activist who had been living a bohemian lifestyle—had only recently been baptized a Catholic. Some twenty-five years later, Day’s perspective on Thérèse had so completely changed that she was inspired to write this biography. She did not find it an easy task: “Every time I sit down to write that book on the Little Flower I am blocked. . . . I am faced with the humiliating fact that I can write only about myself, a damning fact.” But she persisted, and despite numerous rejections eventually found a publisher for it in 1960. She wrote in the Preface: “In these days of fear and trembling of what man has wrought on earth in destructiveness and hate, Thérèse is the saint we need.”
Written originally for nonbelievers or those unaware of Thérèse, the book reflects how Day came to appreciate Thérèse’s Little Way, not as an abstract concept, but as a spirituality that she had already been living. The Catholic Worker, which she cofounded with Peter Maurin, was dedicated to feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Day’s life, like Thérèse’s, was filled with all the humble, self-effacing jobs that were a part of this work. She found in Thérèse a kindred spirit, one who saw these simple hidden tasks as the way to heaven. “We want to grow in love but do not know how. Love is a science, a knowledge, and we lack it,” Day wrote.
Just as Day had a conversion of heart about the Little Way, you, too, can be changed by Thérèse’s simple, yet profound spirituality.
Features & Benefits
- Dorothy Day’s cause for canonization moved forward when Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, opened a canonical inquiry of her life.
- In his speech to the United States Congress in September of 2015, Pope Francis spoke about Dorothy Day as one of four figures who embodied the best of the American spirit. “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.”
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Dorothy Day’s mature assimilation of Thérèse of Lisieux’s spirituality is a vital legacy for the Catholic Worker Movement and for anyone whose life is dedicated to working for peace and justice.
Dorothy Day may not be remembered as one of Thérèse’s greatest biographers, but in Day, Thérèse may well have found her most adept and significant student. On both a personal and a social level, she embraced the implications of Thérèse’s most famous words, 'All is grace.'
Editor-in-chief of Orbis Books
and former managing editor of The Catholic Worker
I feel honored to be able to pay this small bit of homage to a book by a saint of our day, Dorothy Day, whose love made her challenge the lie of what she always called ‘this filthy rotten system,’ and enabled her to see deeply enough into another saint of our day to recognize a kindred spirit, though her life, on the surface, seemed so different from Dorothy’s own.
Theology professor and director of the Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame