In 12 pages of what Jordan calls "A Chronology," he recounts Dorothy's life story in economic detail; I expected to know most of this, having both known her and read most of her writings, but I was wrong. This is far more complete than what I knew and quite fascinating; she lived hard, often bravely, and always vigorously.
From that factual platform, Jordan moves on to elucidate the intellectual and moral themes of Dorothy's life and vocation, nodding along the way to her warm but complex humanity. She sought to live a Christian response to poverty and to demonstrate a way to enflesh justice. She believed that living in and with poverty was simply the only truthful response to our neighbors whom we must love as we love ourselves. But she wasn't sentimental about it:
This uncompromising credo, joined with absolute pacifism and faithfulness to the Church as the vehicle through which Christ erupts in the world, made her a quirky, formidable force. Jordan recounts the episode in 1972 when she faced down the I.R.S., refusing to apply for charitable status for the Catholic Worker house. Why should we need a license from the government to feed the hungry and share with the needy? When the New York Times and the Washington Post editorialized in support of her integrity, the Nixon administration knew it had to back off and nothing more was heard of that.
Dorothy's own writings in the Catholic Worker newspaper and many books are still good reading; Jordan reports that
He also captures a facet of her presence that may not enthrall the sainthood assessors but which was terribly important to the young people who came to her movement in her later life: she was wonderfully well read in classic literature as that was understood in her day. Thanks to her, we read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Undset and Austin, Dickens and Greene, Buber and Arendt, and many more.
The U.S. bishops have forwarded Dorothy's cause to Rome for possible sainthood. Some Catholic Workers find the idea of such institutional blessing grating. For others, the idea that Dorothy embodied sainthood seems self-evident. Jordan offers his own conclusion about the question:
Full disclosure: I worked with Patrick Jordan at the Catholic Worker for several years, though we haven't crossed paths in over 3 decades.