Published: September 25, 2015
The University, in conjunction with Marywood University, will host the Dorothy Day Conference to celebrate the life of the Catholic activist 35 years after her death. The events will be held on both campuses and will include public lectures by Day’s official biographer, Robert Ellsberg, as well as a talk entitled, “Memories of My Grandmother, Prophet and Catholic Peace Activist” by Day’s own granddaughter, Martha Hennessey.
Professors from both schools as well as members of the Scranton community came together to create the idea of an event surrounding Day’s story and legacy. The Rev. Bill Pickard of the Diocese of Scranton happens to know Hennessey, and The University’s Rev. John Sivalon, M.M., knows Ellsberg. As the international and local social climate calls for an increase in activism for justice, Pickard and Sivalon as well as Marywood theology professor Sr. John Michele Southwick, IHM and Rev. Phil Yevics of The University recognized the need to discuss the values that shaped Day’s life.
“One of my favorite sayings is that I think our society today has sleeping sickness of the soul—that we’re very indifferent to people in need, a lot of us,” Southwick said. “We can sit and watch TV and the horrors of war and the horrors of refugees and the hungry people and then go on with our lives as though everything is fine. We never wake up and ask ‘How can I change this?’”
Day addressed myriad causes that still influence society today. She had a passion for women’s rights, farmer’s rights, the rights of the poor, and—perhaps most significantly to The University—she actively defended worker’s rights in accordance with the Catholic Church’s historical support of labor.
Over the course of her life, Day encountered challenges that reflect the issues of many young Americans today. Her path to beatification deviates from the standard piety typically associated with sainthood. She pushed back against the sexism that tried to bar her from the professional world. In addition, she underwent an abortion and later raised a child as a single mother.
Yevics emphasized that Day’s struggles resonate with American young adults in particular. “She also struggled with those decisions—How can I be true to what God wants me to do?— that most Americans today also struggle with,” he said. “Watching her struggles with that can help people feel more confident in their own difficult decisions.”
Yevics also believes that Day’s person-centric spirituality appeals to the vast majority of Americans who identify as “spiritual but not religious.” She sought God outside of religious institutions, in His people.
The Jesuit ideal of service as “men and women for and with others” underlies Day’s relationship with the poor and disenfranchised. Sivalon asserts that the nation’s growing income inequality and consumerism highlight the need for Day’s engaged, faithful activism.
“She was a person who, on one hand, felt that you should have a hands on approach to helping people in need and helping the poor, and at the same time speaking out to advocate for change that would lead to a more just life for them,” Sivalon said. “It also calls for a change in our own life style and our own kind of consumptive habits and I think she embodied that.”
Events for the lecture series will span September and October and culminate in a panel on Day’s birthday, Nov. 8. Ellsberg will speak at 7 P.M. on Sept. 30 in Pearn Auditorium. Hennessey will present in the Brennan Rose Room Oct. 22. Admission to the event is free for students.
Junior Lizzy Polishan expects the conference to follow the inspiring example of previous talks.
“Attending is a great way to hear current ideas and perspectives outside the Scranton community,” Polishan said.
The organizational team hopes that the lectures will spark interest in a Catholic Workers’ Community in the North Eastern Pennsylvania area. Southwick encourages all young adults to emulate Day by discerning their passions and pursuing them.
“We can’t solve the world’s problems but we can solve one person’s problems and look at our own neighborhoods,” Southwick said. “I think we need more role models like Dorothy Day rather than Donald Trump.”