Dorothy Day was known for her work in defense of the poor, hungry and homeless. So it’s fitting that as the Church prepares to celebrate World Day of the Poor Nov. 19, Christ Our Light Parish in Princeton/Zimmerman is bringing her story to life.
“Haunted by God: The Life of Dorothy Day,” a one-woman play about the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, will be presented Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. at Christ Our Light. The event is free, thanks to a grant from the Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission initiative.
“Christ Our Light has chosen a great person of faith and action to inspire people to move beyond themselves,” said Barbara Sutton, director of the Thriving Congregations Initiative at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. “In doing so, they practice serving the mission of the Gospel in the world as well as in the Church.”
The play stars Lisa Wagner-Carollo, founder and director of Still Point Theatre Collective, a community of Chicago-based artists who use theatre to uplift, inform and inspire, according to the theatre’s website. The organization produces original professional plays and provides arts outreach programs to marginalized communities.
Written by Wagner-Carollo, along with Paul Amandes and Robert McClory, the production has been touring the U.S. since May 1990. As research for writing the play, Wagner-Carollo spent time with the St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic Worker community in Chicago. After volunteering there for six months, she became a full-time Catholic Worker and lived in the community for two years.
“Lisa has just really been immersed in this,” said Wendy Rappe, faith formation director at Christ Our Light.
Last Spring Rappe and Wagner-Carollo met at a Lenten retreat in San Francisco. They got to know each other and Wagner-Carollo later reached out to Rappe about bringing the play to Christ Our Light.
Rappe said the play aligns with the mission of Christ Our Light and she is grateful that the parish team was willing to work to bring the play to Minnesota. “[Dorothy Day] is somebody that just enriches the understanding of the Gospel imperative, to love God and love our neighbor,” she said.
Father Kevin Anderson, pastor of Christ Our Light, agrees that the play fits well with the mission of the parish.
“Our mission statement is ‘Love God. Live the Eucharist,’” he said. “Dorothy Day models how to do both in practical and down-to-earth ways.”
Wagner-Carollo has performed in Minnesota before, and said she’s looking forward to these two shows.
“I have many great memories from past shows in Minnesota, so it’s great to return,” she said. “November is the month in which Dorothy was born and the month in which she died, so, it’s always very meaningful to perform the play in November.”
Dorothy Day was a powerful woman of immense conviction who found herself jailed many times when witnessing her beliefs, including women’s suffrage. In New York in 1933, she and a French-born itinerant philosopher Peter Maurin co-founded the Catholic Worker, a living movement that has been responsible for feeding and housing the homeless while maintaining a monthly, nationally-read newspaper. Today, there are over 100 Catholic Worker houses in the United States and around the world, including communities in Toronto and Oxford, England.
“It’s not easy to capture the spirit of a woman nominated for sainthood, but Wagner does it with charm wit and tremendous faith in the power of her words,” reads a review of the play for a Chicago publication. “Day is fascinating because she was so human and so holy at the same time and Wagner and her co-writers…are wise enough to show both sides. They skillfully balance Day’s charms, passions, mistakes and misgivings making the point that people who are not perfect in a dogmatically religious sense are still capable of performing great acts of faith and love.”
The theme for World Day of the Poor is a passage from the Book of Tobit: “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor.” Dorothy Day lived this theme daily, turning no one away. In 1964 she wrote, “The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.”
Wagner-Carollo said she hopes people attending the play take away an appreciation of Day’s deep faith and her commitment to following God’s calling.
“I hope they learn about the love she gave – even in the midst of her own frailty and struggles,” she said.
In March 2000 the Archdiocese of New York was granted permission to open Day’s cause for sainthood, allowing her to be called a “Servant of God.” In 2021, the cause moved ahead, when Cardinal Timothy Dolan forwarded evidence of her holiness to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
“Each of us are called to be saints,” Father Anderson said. “Like Dorothy, despite our set-backs or challenges we are invited to be witnesses of faith and strive to make the world better for others.”
If you go:
What: “Haunted by God: The Life of Dorothy Day”
Where: Christ Our Light, 804 7th Ave. S., Princeton, MN 55371
When: Wednesday, Nov. 15, soup supper at 5:45 p.m. with play to follow at 6:30 p.m.
and Thursday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. with refreshments to follow
Cost: Free — a free will offering will be collected