Catholic New York | December 7, 2000
By Mary Ann Poust
Dorothy Day is not a saint, yet. But that seemed only a technicality to the ecumenical gathering of some 150 clergy members, including Archbishop Egan, at a prayer service and blessing ceremony Nov. 29-the 20th anniversary of her death-of a Manhattan apartment building overlooking the Hudson River that will
house the poor in her name.
“It’s going to be beautiful,” said Ellen Baxter, president of the Broadway Housing Development Fund, the nonprofit agency sponsoring the Dorothy Day Apartments.
Ms. Baxter founded Broadway Housing 20 years ago with the support of Msgr. Thomas P. Leonard, now vicar of West Manhattan and pastor of Holy Trinity. She spoke to CNY about the Dorothy Day Apartments, a seven-story building at West 135th Street and Riverside Drive that’s been abandoned for years.
There will be 70 new apartments created in the space, she said, many of them with three-bedrooms
to accommodate families.
She spoke also of the services to be offered, similar to the services available at all five of the buildings run by Broadway Residences on the upper West Side. There will be on-site day care for children, space for after-school programs, an employment center for teenagers and employment and support services for the adults. The building was purchased at auction with money from an anonymous donor, with the stipulation that it be named for Dorothy Day.
Construction will begin in January, and a formal groundbreaking will be held at that time, Ms. Baxter said. Last week’s event, she added, was an opportunity to bring together “the interfaith clergy leaders concerned about the. need for housing for the poorest people of the city.”
Archbishop Egan, who spoke briefly and offered prayers, acknowledged Ms. Baxter’s service and concern as well. “She’s the Dorothy Day of the West Side,” he said, leading a round of applause.
Father John M. Felice, O.F.M., provincial minister of the Franciscans’ Holy Name Province in Manhattan, led a cheering section that shouted the building’s name: “Dorothy Day Apartments!”
Dorothy Day, who is buried in Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island, gave up a freewheeling bohemian lifestyle – she had affairs, an abortion, was a single mother and embraced socialism and atheism – when she converted to Catholicism at age 30.
A pacifist even at times when it was not fashionable (she opposed World War II, for instance), she practiced radical poverty. She is best known as co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which publishes a newspaper on social justice issues which costs a penny and operates a network of soup kitchens and shelters. She died in 1980 in Manhattan.
Cardinal O’Connor was among Ms. Day’s many admirers, and a few months before his death he initiated her cause for sainthood with a letter to the Vatican describing her as a “modern-day devoted daughter of the Church” who, “like so many saints of days gone by, was an idealist in a non-ideal world.”
Vatican approval for the cause to begin came last March, designating Dorothy Day a Servant of
God. Shortly afterward, the cardinal named his secretary, Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo, now secretary
to Archbishop Egan, as postulator of her cause.
George B. Horton, director of Catholic Charities’ Department of Social and Community Development, has been overseeing efforts to gather the necessary documentation for the cause.
Msgr. Leonard met Ms. Day several times before her death and remembers her as “a tough woman.” He recalled in an interview one of her writings, in. which she wondered, “Why was so much done in remedying … evil instead of avoiding it in the first place? … Were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?”