By Elaine Ireland, spiritual director for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps
Dr. Joe Sclafani transcribing Dorothy Day’s letters.Dr. Joseph Sclafani sits at his desk, sheltering in place in his Brooklyn, NY apartment, a short distance from Kings County and Downstate Hospitals, located in the epicenter of a coronavirus “hot zone.” He prays for the medical staff and reflects on the story he is learning of one young woman who, in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic, set aside her career as a reporter to work as a nurse at Kings County Hospital. The young woman’s name was Dorothy Day.
“Dr. Joe,” a Service Corps Member of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) in New York has, for the past year and a half, been part of a team transcribing more than 7,000 pages of Dorothy Day’s diaries. This effort, under the auspices of the Archdiocese of New York, is in preparation to submit to the Vatican the required paperwork to support the Cause for her Canonization.
Educated in Jesuits schools — Regis High School in NYC (‘69), undergraduate at Fordham (‘73), and med school at Creighton (’77) – Joe believes all those years had an impact. He read about the IVC in his church bulletin, and, “Now, here I am back in the Ignatian fold again!”
The diary entries, which date from 1935 through Dorothy’s death in 1980, encompass the early days of the Catholic Worker Movement, the Depression, World War II, nuclear proliferation, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. She never shied away from involvement in issues that could impact the poor and disenfranchised, and she encountered everyone – from the poor to wealthy donors to government and church leaders – in the same way: she looked to find Christ in each person. “Her diaries are filled with the names of individuals from all walks of life, each with a personal story to tell,” Joe shares.
Early on in these diaries, one comes to see Dorothy’s approach to the poor was founded on Christ’s teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Her role was not to evangelize or to bring Christ to the poor. Christ was already there, and indeed that’s where she would find Him. Her goal was not to change the poor but to elevate them, to give them respect and care, and treat them with the God-given dignity all human beings should be afforded.
It’s no surprise she relied heavily on prayer and on God as her source of protection and strength: “Let us abandon everything to Divine Providence,” she often wrote. Dorothy’s work reminds us we are not messiahs, and ultimately, the work of an IVC Service Corps Member or anyone who serves others, focuses on one person at a time, in the same way Christ often served. If we can make a difference for that one person, we have lightened Christ’s load. Dorothy—a true saint for our times–compels us to realize that each one of us is “a saint in the making.” Let the lessons from her life and her Christian witness and hope guide us as we each embark on caring for one another in the difficult days ahead.
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For more information or to support the cause for Dorothy Day’s canonization, contact the Dorothy Day Guild.