Dorothy Day's granddaughter visits Madison Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
kate hennessey
Kate Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day — a key figure in the Catholic Worker Movement — speaks at Edgewood College on February 8. The image next to her is a graphic illustration of Day, originally done by Catholic Worker artist Fritz Eichenberg.  (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- “If you’re admiring my grandmother, you’re not paying attention.”

Those were strong words said by the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, but perhaps true meaning one shouldn’t focus on the women herself, but the work that needs to be done, and what that means for you in your life.

Day is known for being a driving force behind the Catholic Worker Movement, which tackled issues of social justice. Day’s cause for sainthood is underway with her currently being designated as a “Servant of God”.

Kate Hennessy, youngest granddaughter of Day, recently finished writing the book Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother.

Hennessy recently spoke about the book and her grandmother at Edgewood College as part of its annual Aquinas Forum on February 9.

Hennessy is the daughter of Day’s daughter Tamar, who is known for being the child Day gave birth to six years after she believed an abortion rendered her unable to have any more children.

She called the book, “the story of a relationship between the mother [Day] and a daughter [Tamar].”

Writing the book

Following Day’s death in 1980, Hennessy said she and her mother would talk about Day’s life a lot.

Hennessy kept encouraging her mother to tell her story, but she continued to resist. When Hennessy offered to write the story, Tamar gave her a stern “no.”

Following Tamar’s death in 2008, knowing that “something incredibly important would be lost” in the story of her mother and grandmother, Hennessy decided to write the book, which would take nearly a decade to finish.

While sitting down to write with pictures of her grandmother and mother looking on, she asked herself how she could obtain her permission from her deceased family members to write the book.

Seemingly out-of-nowhere, donations began to come in, and consoled her heart, and she began to put pen to paper.

“I am so grateful to be able to tell these stories,” she said.

Getting to know Dorothy Day

“The story of my grandmother is really a fabulous story,” she added, saying, “It’s history. It’s American history. It’s US history in the 20th century.”

Hennessy said that gratitude played a huge role in Day’s life. A lot of it stemming from Tamar’s birth, deemed impossible at once, and then turning Day’s heart closer to the Catholic Church.

“This was such a sacred moment for her,” she said, and Day was “not going to squander it.”

While Day herself was not a Catholic yet, she had Tamar baptized in the Church.

Hennessy called her grandmother’s conversion as starting “when she was a child and ended when she died.”

Meeting Catholic social activist Peter Maurin would lead Day and him to founding the Catholic Worker Movement in upstate New York, where it still continues its work today, along with Movements across the country -- including one in Madison.

The Movement was founded in 1933, during the Great Depression, and was known for houses of hospitality located in run-down sections of many cities, and in rural areas.

Day also founded the Catholic Worker newspaper, which is still in print today.

Importance of vocation

“She wanted people to find their vocation,” Hennessy said of her grandmother, adding that the idea of vocation was important for both her grandmother and mother.

“Vocation was essential to both of them,” she said. “How do you find your vocation, as opposed to your career.”

On finding one’s vocation, Day would say “you will know it by the joy it brings you . . . ”

Hennessy herself grew up in Vermont, the youngest of nine children, three hours away from the Catholic Worker farm in upstate New York, where Day lived and worked most of her life.

She said her grandmother and mother both had, and instilled in her, “a heroic sense of family” that extended beyond just immediate family members, but to everyone in the Movement, or who needed the benefits of the Works of Mercy.

Hennessy read a few excerpts from her book, displaying inherited storytelling and writing ability. She also took questions from those in attendance who wanted to know more about the life of her grandmother who was known for “consoling the afflicted and afflicting the consoled.”

For more information on the Catholic Worker Movement in Madison, go to

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