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REFLECTION: David Brooks commencement speech in which he speaks of Dorothy Day

The following is from the baccalaureate speech given at Sewanee, the University of the South, by David Brooks last week. In it, he references one of his heroes, Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker. We thought folks might enjoy this.


Columnist David Brooks

… One of my heroes is a woman named Dorothy Day.

When she was a young woman, Day thought she wanted to be a writer and a bohemian. She moved to Greenwich Village in New York. She hung out in bars, listened to jazz and had a lot of boyfriends. She read Dostoyevsky as if her life depended upon it, and sometimes seemed to live like a character in a Dostoyevsky novel. But something about the disorganized nature of that life bothered her.

One night she was wrongly arrested and put in jail. She had done nothing wrong, but to her the arrest seemed to indict her entire style of life.

She wrote: “It was as ugly an experience as I ever wish to pass through. I do not think that ever again, no matter of what I am accused, can I suffer more than I did then of shame and regret, and self-contempt. Not only because I had been caught, found out, branded, publicly humiliated, but because of my own consciousness that I deserved it.”

Then a few years later, she had a very different experience. She gave birth to a child. She wrote that when her child emerged she felt like the greatest artist or the greatest poet:

“No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day

Her need to worship turned her toward God. And with that came a passion, to be among the poor. She started a newspaper called The Catholic Worker. She started soup kitchens and homeless shelters and rural communes. She didn’t serve the way we often serve today, as affluent people going down to give the needy a hand. She embraced poverty and lived in the shelters herself. For her the service was not about the meals. It was a form of worship and way to honor God.

Day wasn’t one of these people who could separate public behavior from private morality. Day couldn’t just do good, she had to be good…

Click here to read the entire address (the Dorothy Day section starts on page 3.)