By Steven Schwankert
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (OSV News) — A floating monument to Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, made its maiden voyage to Manhattan April 28, sailing forth from Day’s adopted home of Staten Island that afternoon.
Day had deep roots on Staten Island, one of New York’s five boroughs. She was received into the Catholic Church there and lived part of her life there. As an adult, she was baptized at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Tottenville in 1927.
Retired New York Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara, Auxiliary Bishop Peter J. Byrne and Msgr. Kevin O’Sullivan of Catholic Charities represented the Archdiocese of New York.
“Our saint. Our Dorothy Day, whom the Lord called over the years, and then in an encounter on the South Shore on the beach with a Sister of Charity, he began drawing her closer and closer and closer. As he formed those prophets of old, so too did he form this great woman,” said Bishop O’Hara in remarks at the ferry’s launch.
The bishop was referring to Sister Aloysia Mary Mulhern, whom Day had approached in 1926 to ask where she could have her newborn daughter, Tamar, baptized. The conversation led to Sister Mulhern instructing Day in the Catholic faith and her baptism Dec. 28, 1927.
Day is a candidate for sainthood and was given the title “Servant of God” when her cause was officially opened in 2000.
“She is not to be admired; she is to be imitated. And as we set sail today on this vessel which bears her name, this ‘Servant of God,’ whom we pray will one day be St. Dorothy Day — I think she’s St. Dorothy Day already,” said Bishop O’Hara, to applause from the approximately 200 guests in attendance.
“Dorothy Day is just the third Staten Island Ferry boat ever to be named after a specific woman. It is only fitting and appropriate to have this new Ferry enshrined (with) the name Dorothy Day,” said New York State Assemblyman Charles D. Fall, in a statement. “Just as she did with her activism, the Ferry continues to bring all walks of life, ethnicity, and faith together as we sail forward. We are proud as a community to have this Ferry today commissioned after the legendary 20th-century Catholic peace icon.”
Robert Ellsberg, who attended the inaugural cruise and had worked with Day as a teenager at The Catholic Worker newspaper, said, “In 1997, which was the centenary of her birth, I wrote to Cardinal (John J.) O’Connor (of New York) and said I hoped he would use the occasion to promote her cause for canonization, which he did.”
Ellsberg later served as the newspaper’s managing editor for two years. Raised in the Episcopal Church, he became a Catholic before editing a number of collections of Day’s writings.
“She was a woman who really took seriously the beatitudes. She not only lived them but stretched them to apply to the issues of her time,” Ellsberg told The Good Newsroom, the digital news outlet of the Archdiocese of New York.
“She was the model of a saint who didn’t just try to care for the poor, care for those who are wounded or sick, but tried to change the social system that creates so many poor people. She did that all as a layperson, as a woman in the church, created a lay movement without asking permission, but just read the Gospels and set out to live that in the most radical way,” added Ellsberg, who is publisher of Orbis Books.
The Dorothy Day is an Ollis-class ferry, costing $85 million and with a maximum capacity of 4,500 passengers, New York City’s Department of Transportation said in a statement. The vessel was commissioned in November 2022. The Staten Island Ferry provides free transportation for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles between St. George on Staten Island’s northern tip, and Lower Manhattan.
Guests and other passengers marveled at the cleanliness of the brand new ferry. The 25-minute voyage cruised past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on calm New York Harbor waters, a cloudy sky the only low point of the occasion.
Day lived part of her life on Staten Island, one of New York’s five boroughs. Besides it being where she was received into the Catholic Church, it also was where she began a cooperative farm in Pleasant Plains in 1950, operating it for the people in need and Catholic Worker members until 1964, when it was sold. She died in 1980 at age 83 and is buried in Resurrection Cemetery, also in Pleasant Plains.
It was in Manhattan where Day met Peter Maurin and started The Catholic Worker newspaper in the depths of the Great Depression and Mary House, the first Catholic Worker hospitality house, of which there are more than 250 worldwide today.
Steven Schwankert is the digital editor of The Good Newsroom, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of New York.