St. Catherine of Siena Parish School students bring to life the work of Dorothy Day by volunteering in Santa Ana

By Tessa Anderson and Rosalia Ripullo     5/16/2019

This year, St. Catherine of Siena Parish School’s Academic Decathlon team studied Dorothy Day, a Catholic influencer and advocate for the poor. We learned about Day’s impact and inspirations and especially what led her to start the Catholic Worker Movement and Houses of Hospitality. 

Day was born on November 8, 1897 to an Episcopalian family. Upon moving to San Francisco, Day was inspired to help the poor due to the frightening experience of the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. Day later attended the University of Illinois at Urbana where she practiced her many forms of peaceful protest and promoted her beliefs. In 1916, Day moved to New York where she worked as a journalist, a protestor, and got a job writing for the New York Call.  Day gave birth to her only child, Tamar Theresa Day. After Tamar was born, Day converted to Catholicism and both were baptized. 

Shortly after this, Day met Peter Maurin, her partner in creating the Catholic Worker Movement and Houses of Hospitality. Maurin taught Day the teachings and writings of many saints who were also focused on ending poverty.  The Catholic Worker movement started during the Great Depression. It was a refuge for the poor. The Catholic Worker Program provided meals, necessities, and sometimes shelter to those who found themselves out of work. The Catholic Worker Movement continued to stay strong even after Day died on November 29, 1980. She wanted to be Christ-like and help the poor, and the OC Catholic Worker House was an excellent example of her vision. 

On Sunday, February 24th, our decathlon team traveled to the OC Catholic Worker House to bring our studies on the life and work of Dorothy Day to life. On Sundays, the Catholic Worker house in Santa Ana opens its doors to over 200 men, women, and children, offering them free donated clothing, health products, haircuts, breakfast and a hot lunch. During breakfast, we were able to walk around handing out coffee and pastries to those in need, speaking to those we served and learning about their lives.  After the morning ended, we cleaned up all the trash while the volunteer chefs prepared a lunch of burgers, baked beans, and fritos. We lined up in front of the kitchen and handed out with heaping plates of food. Those receiving the meal thanked us, and the day ended with the people trickling out the door feeling safe and satisfied.   

Our studies of the life of Dorothy Day, along with this eye-opening experience, taught us about Catholic social justice and serving others. Her morals included hospitality and kindness, which is exactly what this experience taught us to value.  However, the most significant lesson we internalized was at the OC Catholic Worker House, where we learned that everybody is human and deserves God’s unceasing grace. We saw God’s grace through the smiling faces of those in need. Every person we met was so grateful and appreciative to us, and kept such a positive attitude despite their unfortunate circumstance. Our interactions at the OC Catholic Worker really left an impression on us, and it taught us about our Catholic calling to help all of God’s people.