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Revolution of The Heart

Tony Rossi, Director of Communications

“If your brother is hungry, you feed him. You don’t meet him at the door and say, ‘Go, be thou filled’ or ‘Wait a few weeks and you’ll get a welfare check.’ You sit him down and feed him.” So says Dorothy Day in a vintage clip of her sharing her philosophy of helping society’s poor and homeless in the new PBS documentary “Revolution of the Heart.”

The film was created by Christopher Award-winning documentarian Martin Doblmeier, who joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” to discuss Day’s life, work, and faith. He noted that even in her early years, when she was a communist, Day felt haunted by God. She tried to suppress her religious sensibilities, but they were always bubbling back up because she was drawn to activities, such as reading the Psalms.

After giving birth to her only child, Tamar, out of wedlock, Day had her baptized in the Catholic Church and soon decided to become Catholic herself. Even after her conversion, Day still wasn’t sure how to live out her faith. Then, she met a French man named Peter Maurin, who taught her about Catholic social teaching. He said, “You need to start a newspaper. You need to think about how you can respond in a creative way to the needs of the poor. You have to start living the beatitudes in a very different way.” Day found Maurin annoying at first because he wouldn’t leave her alone. But finally she came to the conclusion, “Maybe this is the man that God [sent] to me. Maybe this is the voice that I need to be listening to.”

Together, Day and Maurin founded the Catholic Worker movement, which involved publishing their own newspaper and opening houses of hospitality where the poor could live and eat together. In addition, Day adopted “voluntary poverty” herself. Doblmeier explained, “Day felt as though you can’t be serving the poor from the top down. You have to live together with them and be poor like them.”

The philosophy that motivated Day’s approach is called personalism. Doblmeier said, “Dorothy Day was advocating [the idea that] individual people may not be able to change the whole world, but they can have an impact on the life of the person who’s right in front of them. And that’s an empowering concept. She thought that we as individuals had the first line of responsibility to take care of the poor in our midst. And she lived that every day.”

Throughout her life, Day engaged in serious and difficult work. And many pictures show her as being serious. Yet Doblmeier found an audio clip of Day talking about joy. She said, “Frankly, you can have a sense of joy just in serving the people that are in need around you. And a sense that your vocation is being fulfilled.”

Doblmeier said, “When you look at the film, I’ve been told a couple of times that she looks dour sometimes. But we found a photograph of her smiling. It was a very private, quiet moment when she was actually reading to an elderly woman in bed. I used that with [her quote] that we can find joy. There’s joy in serving other people. Even though they’re poor, [they] give back to you what it is that you’re giving to them, and that becomes your vocation. And in the midst of doing your vocation, feeling as though your life has a purpose, you can find unspeakable joy.”

For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING HEALING AFTER TRAGEDY OR LOSS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or

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