Five More Insights From Dorothy Day on Death and Dying

Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She wrote an autobiography, The Long LonelinessLoaves and Fishes, her history of the Catholic Worker movement; Thérèse, a life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux; and other books. Cardinal John O’Connor opened her cause for canonization in 2000 and the American bishops unanimously endorsed it 2012. 

You can read her insights taken from her diaries, The Duty of Delight, here.


No matter how much you expect a death, no matter how much you may regard it as a happy release, there is a gigantic sense of loss. With our love of life, we have not yet got to that point where we can say with the desert father, St. Anthony, “The spaces of this life, set over against eternity, are brief and poor.”

— The Story of Three Deaths

Many years ago, when the eighteen-year-old son of a friend of ours committed suicide, a priest told me: “There is no time with God, and all the prayers you say in the future for this unhappy boy will have meant that God gave him the choice at the moment of death, to choose light instead of darkness, good instead of evil, indeed the Supreme Good.” I had been a Catholic only a year, and I had the names in my prayer book of ten people I knew who had taken their own lives. As I look back, I recall how many of my own dear dead never had in this life a living faith.”

— The Catholic Worker

Is suffering and death, and the strength to bear them, all there is in this struggle? This search for God would be a pretty grim affair if this were all, and transcendence too high a goal for simple folk. Let us remember other elements too. . . . Catherine of Siena assures us that “all the way to Heaven is Heaven, because He said, I am the way.”

The Catholic Worker

It is hard to explain the fact that there is joy in truly religious ceremonies for our departed ones. One has to experience it to know it. They have run their course, they have lived fully, they have encountered and passed through death, that universal experience, that penalty for the Fall, which Christ Himself first paid for us all. It indeed can become an occasion of joy, even in anticipation, holding as we can do to our Father’s hand.

— “On Pilgrimage,” The Catholic Worker

I had the great privilege of standing by my mother’s bed, holding her hand, as she quietly breathed her last. So often I had worried when I was traveling around the country that I would not be there with her at the time, if she were suddenly taken. And now I saw my little four-year-old great-granddaughter worrying about me. It was just after Rita Corbin’s mother’s death (another member of our family to remember this month). After Carmen’s death and burial in our parish cemetery, my little Tanya came and sat on my lap. It was after one of my weeks’ long absences from the farm, and stroking my cheek, she said, anxiously, “You’re not old — you’re young.”

Sensing her anxiety, I could only say, “No, I’m old too, like Mrs. Ham, and some day, I don’t know when, I’m going to see my mother and father and brother, too.” And accustomed to my absences, I am sure she was comforted.

— “On Pilgrimage,” The Catholic Worker

“There is no time with God, and prayer is retroactive. By virtue of the prayers we may say in the future, at the moment of the death which so appallingly met them, they will have been given the grace to choose light rather than darkness. Love rather than Hate. May their souls, as well as the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.”

— “Meditation on the Death of the Rosenbergs”


You can read that part of “The Story of Three Deaths” describing Day’s mentor Peter Maurin’s suffering and death, here. You can find an extensive archive of Day’s writing here.

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