Random Thoughts

How did Dorothy Day become Roman Catholic?

... what became of Foster?

by Ed Boyd

A couple of weeks ago at lunch at the Charles Hotel, my friend and
colleague, Dr. Jay Clark, suggested that I might want to read Jim Forrest’s,
"All is Grace," a biography of Dorothy Day. I liked the Forrest book very much,
fluent, easy to read. Forrest was a worker at The Catholic Worker, established
by Dorothy Day. He writes very reverently about Day, a person to whom he had
been close for several years.

When I had finished "All is Grace," I came away with the uneasy feeling that I
did not know how Day became Roman Catholic. This feeling lingered with
me, left me scratching my head. I remembered that Robert Coles had written a
biography of Day. Luckily, "Dorothy Day, a radical devotion" by Robert
Coles was in the library. I spent a few hours with Cole’s book and still felt I
did not know how and why Dorothy Day chose to become Catholic. I decided to get
"The Long Loneliness," the autobiography of Dorothy Day to hear the words from
her mouth.

                                                          Dorothy Day
I know why I was a Roman Catholic because my parents were and they sent me to a
parochial school to have those ideas imbedded. Day was confirmed in the
Anglican Church and somehow strayed from that faith. I had learned from the
Coles book, “She also became involved in an unhappy love affair with a
tough ex-newspaperman named Lionel Moise, became pregnant by him, had an
abortion, and soon thereafter, on the rebound, married Barkley Tobey, a strange
man about whom little is known beyond gossip and the fact that he was married
eight times.”

In "The Long Loneliness," she never mentions Moise or Tobey. But she does
mention her love for Foster with whom she lived as a common-in-law-wife in
her middle twenties. Tamar was born to Dorothy and Foster just before her
thirtieth birthday. Although Foster would have no part of a marriage, preferring
to call their relationship camaraderie, he loved Tamara. Tamara was baptized as
Roman Catholic in July and Foster had caught lobsters in his traps for the feast
but would not participate. Day says of Foster, “I loved him in everyway, as a
wife, as a mother even…I loved his lean cold body as he got into bed smelling of
the sea, and I loved his integrity and stubborn pride.”

Then, a little down further on page 148, “When he returned, as he always had, I
would not let him in the house…” On page 140 she had said, “To become a
Catholic meant for me to give up a mate with whom I was much in love,” That is
the last we hear of Foster.

We know that Dorothy went to work in California and when that job failed she
went to Mexico. She stayed about six months in Mexico, but because Tamara
became sick she came back East. She returned to New York City and Tamara got
better, shortly. Somehow, Dorothy was drawn to the Roman Catholic Church.
She says, “Without even looking into the claims of the Catholic Church, I was
willing to admit that for me she was one true Church. She had come down
through the centuries since the time of Peter, and far from being dead, she
claimed and held the allegiance of the masses of people in all the cities
where I had lived.” On the face of it, this seems a flimsy rationale for wanting
to be Roman Catholic. No mention is made of being confirmed in the
Anglican Church.

Sometime later she encounters Peter Maurin. Day’s prose is filled with
delightful details like, speaking of Peter she says, “He was intently alive, on
the alert, even when silent, engaged in reading or in thought. When he talked,
the tilt of his head, his animated expression, the warm glow in his
eyes, the gestures of his hands, his shoulders, his whole body, compelled your

Then, a little further down, “He spoke in terms of ideas, rather than
personalities, and he stressed the importance of theory.” When it came time to
give a name to their paper, Peter suggested "The Catholic Radical." Day insisted
in calling it "The Catholic Worker" and "The Catholic Worker" was
born. Peter said, “Man proposes, but woman disposes.”

Peter was deeply learned in knowledge of the Catholic Church. Over the years
that they worked together, Peter taught Day the details of The Catholic
Church. It was as if Peter became the substitute for Foster, as her lover, as
her spiritual advisor. This is what bothers me. I am a man who has fathered
several children. When I read these words I say to myself, what happened to
Foster? Day never mentions Foster again, as if he was dumped off a cliff. We
don’t know if Foster ever got to spend time with Tamara. What a rotten way to
treat Foster. There is no evidence that Day ever bothered to think about Foster
and just went on to her merry, spiritual way.

September 7, 2012

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